Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Black Book

Paul Verhoeven | 2006 | 145 min | Netherlands

In the Nazi-occupied Netherlands, a Jewish woman hides under bleach blond curls + the name of Ellis de Vries (Carice van Houten). To aid the Resistance who took her in + protected her, she infiltrates Gestapo headquarters as the lover of SS hauptsturmf├╝hrer Ludwig M├╝ntze (Sebastien Koch). The information she gathers for them not only puts her in increasing danger, but begins to fracture the Resistance, + tests her own loyalties. As the entire country feels the war drawing to a close, many factions + individuals grow desperate to make a play for wealth + power. Warning: this synopsis is far more economical than the screenplay.

Despite some great performances, especially by van Houten, Koch, + Waldemar Kobus (as SS officer Franken), there are too many characters for any of them to be fleshed out. Everyone's motivations become increasingly cloudy as Verhoeven attempts to jam more + more reversals + drama into the storyline. The result gives us several scenes of high emotion with little understanding on our part of why that emotion is there in the first place.

It's not that Black Book is bad, it's that it is so painfully average. Verhoeven is responsible for some terrific uberpopcorn movies + some very interesting disasters, but Black Book is not bold enough to be either. This film feels like it could have been made by any half competent director at any point in the last twenty-five years. There are so many moments + characters that seem to be recycled from other World War II films. And at almost two + a half hours, all of those familiar moments become oppressive. By the time de Vries screams, "Will it never end?!", you can really sympathize.

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