Rachel Stein (Carice van Houten) is hiding in rural Holland in the final stages of the war. When her foster home is destroyed by a bomb, she is rescued by a Resistance fighter and she meets Mr Smaal (Dolf de Vries) a lawyer helping rich Jews escape. But the planned escape ends in slaughter, including Rachel's family. She joins the Resistance and becomes involved with a high ranking SS officer Ludwig Muntze (Sebastian Koch), hoping to gather useful information. As Muntze's conscience steers him towards an unofficial cease-fire with the Resistance, his fellow officers turn on him. Meanwhile, after a failed attempt to free Resistance fighters from the Nazi jail, Rachel is implicated as a traitor to the Resistance and her life is at great risk, as is the life of Muntze.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Paul Verhoeven has invested vast amounts of time (in all, about 40 years on and off) in this film, reading hundreds of documents and developing the script with his collaborator, Gerard Soeteman. The result is an extraordinary, complex and vivid story which drives the film like a locomotive. The research pays off in various ways, such as the avoidance of black and white morality and black and white characters. It also fills the screenplay with twists and turns that keep us not only engaged but on edge.
Unlike so many war films about heroics of resistance fighters against the vile Nazis, Black Book shows a more realistic complexity. (Albeit with an occasional scene that stretches credibility, as when Rachel jumps off a first floor balcony in a bid to escape a traitor.) The story involves all the human frailties and strengths, from betrayals to courage, from hate to love. And it takes us along with its wave of danger as our heroine walks into the belly of the beast with a commitment forged in the fires of terrible events. There is nothing formulaic or fake about Black Book.
The atrocious behaviour of people in war gains a measure of context in this film, and Carice van Houten's wonderful performance decorates it; all her co-stars are equally impressive, and Verhoeven's attention to detail is exceptional. Emotionally involving and visually powerful, Black Book resonates with the human condition at the deepest level.
Review by Louise Keller:
This Dutch war story about the resistance has all the elements of a juicy thriller. There are daring escapes, conspiracies, betrayals, camaraderie and love. But none of it goes as planned and we are kept on the edge of our seats throughout the 145 gripping minutes of Paul Verhoeven's first film in his native Holland for twenty years. The issues are those of survival; the stakes are the highest imaginable; the rewards of this emotionally devastating film considerable.
"How far are you willing to go?" Resistance leader Gerben Kuipers (Derek de Lint) asks Carice Van Houten's Rachel Stein. Stein proves she is willing to go to any lengths, as she seduces Sebastian Koch's Ludwig Muntze, sings by the piano accompaniment of her parents' murderer and becomes engaged in risky deeds locked behind the formidable walls of the Dutch SD. "One day you're singing; the next day you're silenced," says Stein on the eve of her first ill-fated escape. For Van Houten, who is on screen for almost the entire film, this is a role that will doubtlessly springboard her to stardom: she is breathtaking. All her emotions are concealed. From the moment we meet her as a trusting, wide-eyed young singer through her extraordinary experiences and liaisons which make her a knowing woman of the world. We become involved in her unlikely friendship with Halina Reijn's vivacious SS whore Ronnie, who understands the harsh facts of survival, and her relationship with Thom Hoffman's charming sharp shooter Hans Akkermans, who rivals for her affection.
All the cast is superb: Koch is a special favourite since his marvellous performance in The Lives of Others and Hoffman has unerring charisma. The surprise is the myriad of twists and turns that take us through the narrative. Verhoeven uses his considerable skills as filmmaker to inject gravitas, frivolity, sensuality and inevitability into the mix. Even liberation day brings its problems and we learn that it is never safe to trust anyone. There are no easy resolutions or endings, but a sense of satisfaction as the story plays out to its conclusion. This is the cinematic achievement that Charlotte Gray aspired to be. It's a bombshell of a film - riveting from start to finish and great entertainment to boot.
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BLACK BOOK (MA)
CAST: Carice van Houten, Sebastian Koch, Thom Hoffman, Halina Reijn, Waldermar Kobus, Derek de Lint, Christian Berkel, Dolf de Vries, Peter Blok
PRODUCER: Jeroen Beker, Teun Hilte, Jos van der Linden, Frans van Gestel
DIRECTOR: Paul Verhoeven
SCRIPT: Paul Verhoeven, Gerard Soeteman
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Karl Walter Lindenlaub
EDITOR: Job ter Burg, James Herbert
MUSIC: Anne Dudley
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Wilbert Van Dorp
OTHER: Language: Dutch, German, English, Hebrew
RUNNING TIME: 144 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Sony
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 5, 2007