Black Book (Zwartboek) (15)

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The ViewBirmingham Review

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Review byMatthew Turner17/01/2007

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 145 mins

Thoroughly entertaining, gripping thriller, with superb, well paced direction from Verhoeven and a sensational central performance by Carice van Houten.

What's it all about?
Paul Verhoeven's first Dutch film in 20 years is set in 1944 and stars Carice van Houten as feisty Jewish singer Rachel Steinn, who goes on the run after her hideout is bombed. Witnessing a brutal ambush, Rachel joins the Dutch Resistance, where she is given a new identity (and a blonde all-over dye job) as Ellis de Vries and asked to infiltrate the German security service by using her considerable charms on a senior German officer (Sebastian Koch as Muntze).

The Good
Verhoeven's direction is excellent, maintaining a breathtaking pace which ensures that the lengthy running time positively zips past. He moves seamlessly from moments of high drama to tense, exciting action scenes and you're never more than a few minutes away from a thrilling set-piece or an exhilarating suspense sequence.

Carice van Houten is terrific in the lead role, radiating wit, energy and sex appeal. This being a Verhoeven film, she spends large amounts of it either topless, naked or scantily clad – not that there's anything wrong with that. There's also strong support from Halina Reijn (as Rachel's lively and practical co-worker) and Koch, who transcends the usual Nazi stereotypes and emerges as a heroic figure.

The Bad
However, the film's not entirely without flaws. For one thing, it unfolds in flashback, so we know that Rachel is alive and well in 1956. This robs the film of much of its suspense, particularly as she has so many near-death experiences.

Similarly, towards the end of the film, Verhoeven goes somewhat over the top with the degradation scenes, with one scene in particular being genuinely repulsive and, frankly, unnecessary.

Worth seeing?
The occasional flaw aside, this is a superbly directed, brilliantly acted and thoroughly entertaining thriller that could well end up with a Best Foreign Film nomination come Oscar time. Recommended.

Film Trailer

Black Book (Zwartboek) (15)
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Content updated: 21/05/2019 14:21

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