Thursday, November 15, 2007

Black Book (Zwartboek)

Paul Verhoeven has brought us several classic films over the years from sci-fi thrillers such as Total Recall to erotic whodunits in Basic Instinct. You always know what you are going to get: lots of sex, lots of graphic violence, and some marvelous camera work. Although most importantly, you get a film director with a vision.

To say I was excited to see Black Book would be an understatement. Verhoeven doesn't make a lot of films these days since the flop that was Hollow Man. We start off with a Jewish girl named Rachel(Carice von Houten) living in hiding during WWII in occupied Netherlands. A twist of fate causes her to once again go on the run from those damn Nazis. She eventually falls in with a group of freedom fighters working the underground.

Rachel decides that she is willing to do anything for the cause... so she, with a former doctor named Hans(Thom Hoffman), goes undercover as Ellis. Her task is to get close to a key German officer played by the gifted actor Sebastian Koch... who many might know from the 2006 Best Foreign Film The Lives of Others. That is enough of a set up... either you'll be intrigued or not by that description. The plot unfolds with quite a few twists and turns to keep you paying attention to every detail.

Verhoeven is a master of the camera, but you never get a feeling that he is grandstanding or doing unnecessary shots to draw attention. But taking a look at the opening sequence is enough to tell you that he and his crew are quite skilled. It sets a tone for the rest of the film that you are in for the aforementioned "vision" the director has for this time period and circumstances.

All the actors are quite strong, but the three leads do award worthy work here. Carice von Houten has the difficult task of holding it all together with a performance that doesn't come acrossed as forced. The complex storyline could easily gone astray without someone to keep the audience grounded. Sebastian Koch also manages to add some depth and humanity to a man that could have been a stereotype.

Black Book is the second best film I've seen this year and that is only because a director named David Fincher decided to drop one of the decades best films (Zodiac) on us earlier this year.


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