Saturday, April 14, 2007

No Good: Black Book

Black Book
Directed by Paul Verhoeven
Released April 4, 2007

Going in, I knew that a Holocaust film from the director of "Showgirls" and "Starship Troopers" was going to be a gamble. As it turns out, I should have expected the worst and perhaps I would have been pleasantly surprised. What should be a compelling resistance drama comes off instead as a campy adventure thriller which does no justice to the individuals on which the characters in the story are based.

"Black Book" is a poorly done revenge story about a Jewish woman, Rachel, whose family is killed while they are trying to escape the occupied part of Holland. Rachel dies her hair blond and becomes Ellis de Vries, an active member of the resistance who is later forced to get close to a Nazi officer in order to help several captured members of the resistance. The plot is a continuing story of betrayal which twists and turns throughout, but not in a clever way, rather, gets more and more confusing and nothing is ever really sorted out.

Carice Van Houten stars as Rachel/Ellis, and in part due to the sloppy nature of the writing, she comes off as annoying and completely unsympathetic so that it is hard to feel sorry for what happens to her outside of what she can't prevent (that is, obviously her family being killed and the persecution she faces is terrifying, but that sustains itself on its own without any help from Verhoeven's less-than-able directing skills). The rest of the cast is hardly notable, and one of the villains (I will not reveal who, due to the twisty nature of the film) is by far the corniest villain I have seen in a while. The one standout is Sebastian Koch as the sympathetic Nazi officer who Ellis seduces, and he is the only one of the cast I have seen before, in another great performance as Georg Dreyman in this year's "The Lives of Others."

Mostly, the film suffers because of Verhoeven's direction and the unexceptional writing. As I mentoned before, the film is based on true events, and I give no credit to the director or the writer for the true events that occured and the powerful and disturbing nature of those events as played out on screen. The problem I have is with what Verhoeven chose to include in his film. It seems clear that Verhoeven, making his first film in his nature language in over twenty years, has not matured from the days of "Showgirls" (which I have not seen, but can imagine what it is like) and "Starship Troopers). There is a great deal of gratuitous male and female full-frontal nudity that is just unnecessary, especially in this kind of film because it is done merely to spice up the film, and Verhoeven shows us much more than we need to see. We can infer that someone will die if a firing squad is aiming at him without actually seeing him get riddled with bullet holes, and that someone in a nailed-shut coffin will suffocate without actually hearing him breath his last breath. All in all, an immature film and major disappointment.


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