2007-05-18 / Columnists

'Black Book' - Hard To Resist

Review By Robert Snyder

Review By Robert Snyder

After 20 years in the Hollywood hit factory, filmmaker Paul Verhoeven ("Basic Instinct," "Total Recall," "Showgirls") has returned to his Holland home where his career started ("Soldier of Orange") to make "Black Book." But, he has brought a lot of the Tinseltown razzamatazz with him.

A Spielbergesque action thriller about the Dutch resistance in World War II, "Black Book" is more "Indiana Jones" than "Schindler's List." This is despite its "true events" disclaimer and theme that heroism can be found in the most unlikely places…as can villainy.

In a breakthrough performance, Dutch actress Carice van Houten plays beautiful Jewish cabaret singer Rachel Stein whose adventure with the resistance movement has her outlive any cat. In fact, in an early sequence, she is rescued from certain death by Allied bombs when a passing sailboat skipper happens to pick her up. She then finds herself entrenched with Dutch partisans, who convince her to be a Mata Hari sex spy infiltrating the local Gestapo by bedding down its handsome leader Ludwig Müntze (Sebastian Koch). The problem is that Müntze's Nazi heart is surprisingly soft and Rachel, who now goes by "Ellis," falls for him (and vice versa).

Double and triple crosses pile up, culminating in a "Dirty Dozen"-type shootout, with resistance fighters making a daring rescue of prisoners in the basement of an estate where Gestapo officers stage a wild party upstairs. The intrigues extend well past the Allied liberation as Rachel is saved (again) from death and humiliation from her own people convinced that she is a Nazi sympathizer. However, she turns the tables revealing the contents of a black book wherein bad partisans are exposed in a scheme to kill Jews (her parents included) and steal their valuables.

Like his Hollywood movies, Verhoeven keeps the entertainment level high, loading up on ample scenes of sex and violence. It's one WW II resistance thriller that is hard to resist. While the subject is serious, he never stays too far away from cartoon pulp. Even the music by Anne Dudley is a bit overblown.

Nevertheless, if you can find a theater not playing "Spider-Man 3" (or any other summer franchise film), "Black Book" may be buried somewhere.

See it. Hollywood comes to Holland.

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