Directed by: Paul Verhoeven
Premise: After the Nazis massacre her family, a Jewish woman (Carice van Houten) joins an underground resistance movement in Holland and penetrates the Nazi authorities, seducing an official (Sebastian Koch) to get inside information.
What Works: Black Book is a bit like a World War II version of The French Connection; the film blurs the line between the heroes and villains, crossing and double-crossing their allegiances. Black Book uses some of the familiar traits and plot moves of a crime film and lays that over a political story. The result is a film that is ethically complex and raises serious questions about the relationship between a revolution and the establishment. As Rachel (van Houten) becomes more engrained in the Nazi culture, she discovers that there is a chance for redemption among the Nazis occupying Holland, namely Gestapo leader Ludwig Muntze (Koch), who tries to follow some sort of moral compass despite being in league with one of the most destructive organizations of the twentieth century. At the same time, some members of the resistance movement lose their way or compromise their ethical standing to settle personal vendettas. One of the most remarkable elements of Black Book is its reversal upon the liberation of Holland. Where most World War II films stop at the defeat of the Nazis, Black Book keeps going and saves some of its most horrific imagery for after the country has been freed from Nazi rule. As the Nazis, their sympathizers, or those suspected of allying themselves with the Nazis are rounded up by angry mobs, the film makes the reconstruction of Europe uncertain and chaotic. It is a bold move that makes Black Book unique among the library of World War II films.
What Doesn’t: The film gets a bit soap opera-like in the middle as Rachel and Muntze fall in love and try to salvage their relationship. It works and gives the film some pathos appeal but it is also distracts a bit from the danger.
DVD extras: Commentary track, featurettes.
Bottom Line: Paul Verhoeven is a filmmaker whose output has varied from excellent (Robocop) to downright awful (Showgirls). Black Book is one of his better works, probably one of his best. It showcases many of Verhoeven’s strengths and downplays his weaknesses, and the result is a film that is a unique portrayal of the war and the post-war period.
Episode: #170 (December 16, 2007)