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Black Book

USA 2006
Directed by
Paul Verhoeven
129 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bruce Paterson
1 stars

Black Book

Synopsis: A Jewish singer hides out from the Nazi regime in the occupied Netherlands and is asked to infiltrate the Nazi command where her relationship with a Nazi commander complicates things.

Director Paul Verhoeven is full of surprises. His typically violent and sexual American films include Robocop, Total Recall, Basic Instinct, Showgirls. These have earned him various awards (mainly for editing and special effects) and in 1995 a Razzie for Worst Director (for Showgirls, for which he was the first director to accept in person).

Before his move from The Netherlands to Hollywood, however, he had made Turkish Delight (1973) which in 1999 was awarded 'Best Dutch Film Of The Century'. He is also a member of the 'The Jesus Seminar', a research team of New Testament scholars using historical methods to determine the historical 'truth' of Jesus and is writing a book (Jesus: The Man), which no doubt will lay the ground for a controversial film project on the same subject.

Adding to this varied CV Verhoeven now gives us Black Book, the most awarded film at the Netherlands Film Festival last year. It promises a potential breakthrough in Verhoeven's style and career, yet to me seems a disappointing failure.

Despite being based 'on true events' (ie. World War II really did happen), the narrative all too often feels contrived. A randomly-dropped bomb happens to destroy a crucial hideout, a Nazi collaborator is around every corner, and a sex scene appears every time the film's energy seems to be flagging. It all contributes to a slightly farcical rendition of what is meant to be a tragic story. In The Lives Of Others, another film about the surveillance State gone wrong, such a development was an organic outcome of events.  In Black Book, it just feels like a unintended consequence.

On the one hand, the film is well-produced, well-directed and well-acted. But none of these can save it from a clichéd story that despite a staccato concatenation of explosions, gun fire, twists and betrayals sags under the weight of cheesy tedium. We have seen too many, better and more horrifying films about World War II to care much about what happens in this one.




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