A- Sound: A- Extras: C+ Film: B
long time, Paul Verhoeven was making films inspired by brutal living in Holland
and that always involved WWII. Even when
he came to America, where his films became colder, darker and more cynical, the
result was an anti-fascist streak that informed the dangers of corporations in
commercial fare like Robocop and Total Recall (see the Blu-ray elsewhere
on this site) as well as a U.S. Government gone totally fascist in Starship Troopers. However, his brutal Dutch film Soldier Of Orange was the most
realistic and explicit of these expressions until recently. Black
Book marks his return to his homeland and the resulting film is pretty
with Soldier Of Orange co-writer
Gerald Soeteman, a Jewish singer named Rachel Stein (Carice van Houten) somehow
manages to survive a fatal group attack.
Joining the Dutch Resistance to the Nazi-occupied Netherlands and going
on a mission to possibly save some of the members captured by The Nazis, she
dyes her hair blonde and pretends to be part of the whole Nazi/Aryan movement,
but also wants to seek vengeance for those killed. She falls for a Nazi Captain (Sebastian Koch
from the also-impressive The Lives Of Others,
reviewed elsewhere on this site in Blu-ray and DVD) who falls for her… and
finds out her secret. He decides to keep
it, but there is a traitor in her organization and now, anything can happen.
can be very suspenseful and very brutal, pulling no punches on what the Nazis
were like and for its boldness, is as much a critique of their methods as
Pasolini’s Salo or other brutal
films about fascism that in themselves are acts of courage. The Nazis were this brutal in his Soldier Of Orange and his point of view
about them has not grown dim in the least.
His is a very strong cast and Verhoeven proves that he can leave
commercial filmmaking behind and deliver the kind of important, serious film
that is as relevant now as ever. But
there are some complications.
is in this position where he is trying to go back home, but some of the style
he developed only in his U.S. work is now a permanent part of his directing
psyche and it shows here in odd ways.
The sexuality (gay, straight, depraved and otherwise) that seemed so
naturalistic and raw in his early Dutch films is now tinged with a strange
sense of phoniness that was on overdrive display in Showgirls (reviewed elsewhere on this site). He is being sincere and some graphic and wild
scenes certainly secure the film its rating, but most critics have not forgiven
him for Showgirls (which I did not
like, but from which he recovered quickly in follow-up films) and they held it
against this film to the extent it did not have the commercial and critical
success it deserved.
special brand of coldness crosses over into the most serious issues of genocide
and what drives each character, throwing the film off. I bet if he made this before coming to the
U.S., it would have been a better film and he actually wanted to do a WWII film
before settling for Starship Troopers
(told a WWII film would never make money pre-Saving Private Ryan) so he is finally getting to do another film on
the subject. What saves the film is his
brutal attack on The Nazis at a time when such behavior has become palatable,
which makes Black Book much more of
a winner than most film on the subject of late despite its limits. Compare to fluff like Shining Through and you’ll realize how bold this all really is.
digital 1.85 X 1 High Definition image on the Blu-ray was shot by Director of
Photography Karl Walter Lindenlaub, A.S.C., B.V.K., in Super 35mm and it is one
of the best-looking such productions in a while. Verhoeven has not made a scope film since Showgirls, but the use of the frame is
far superior. Color is solid and complex
in its application, detail is very good for the Super 35 format, you can see
the money on the screen and Lindenlaub (Stargate,
Independence Day, The Jackal) delivers a film that feels
like a world lived in and darkly at that.
As is the
case with all Verhoeven films, the sound design is often superior. The PCM 16/48 5.1 mix is as superior,
state-of-the-art and aggressive as all of his Hollywood productions have been (Starship Troopers and Hollow Man rank among the best to date)
and the mix has exceptional character.
There are minor flaws in soundstage accuracy, but they are
negligible. The combination is
demonstration quality and puts the many shallow, over-digitized, hundred-million-dollar,
color desaturated disasters that keep getting produced.
include a making of featurette and yet another must-hear feature length audio
commentary by Verhoeven explaining his approach to making the film. Sometimes it is very informative, but other
times, it can be unintentionally funny.
Still, he is a better filmmaker than he gets credit for being and every
commentary track he does (alone or not) is a gem.
pointed out to some associates that since arriving in the U.S., there has been
an interesting correlation between Verhoeven and the film of Stanley
Kubrick. With Kubrick sadly no longer
with us, when I heard about this project, I immediately thought of an abandoned
Kubrick project. Louis Begley’s amazing
novel Wartime Lies was the basis for his anti-Holocaust/anti-Nazi
project, The Aryan Papers, also
involving a female lead passing for a Nazi, but to simply survive their
murderous invasion of Poland. Schindler’s List finally convinced him
to drop the project, depressing as it was to him. However, these stories need to be told,
especially now more than ever when certain sinister types would love to bury
the truth. In even making such a film,
it is one thing no one can take away from Verhoeven.
- Nicholas Sheffo