Thursday, April 19, 2007

Blondes Have More Hun

Black Book, Telford Odeon, Tuesday April 17 2007.

Mention director Paul Verhoeven's name and most people will think of the sci-fi satires (Robocop, Total Recall, Starship Troopers) and fulsome fleshfeasts (Basic Instinct, Showgirls) that characterised his Hollywood output for the best part of the last 20 years. And yet the Dutch director initially made his name in his homeland with World War 2 epics like 1979's Soldier Of Orange, and he's used his tinseltown thump to return to another wartime romp in the Netherlands, but this time with a budget to match its' scope. Whereas Verhoeven's last film, Hollow Man (2000), was widely derided for being a largely empty vessel signifying nothing, his new work Black Book manages the difficult trick of feeling weighty while keeping the action and plot twists running at breakneck pace throughout.

The story features Carice van Houten as a wealthy Jewish singer who sees her entire family slaughtered in an SS trap during a botched escape to Belgium. She falls in with the local resistance movement, and one all-over peroxide makeover later, passes herself off as a blonde and soon has the local Gestapo chief slobbering over her stamp collection. Before you can say Allo, Allo, she's working undercover (and indeed, under the covers) at the Gestapo HQ, and then things start getting really complicated when some Resistance colleagues are captured and tortured. Can she help rescue her compatriots without blowing her cover? Will she fall in love with the cultured, compassionate Gestapo chief or the dashing but decidedly cold crackshot doctor working for the Resistance? Will she be able to convince the nation of her good intentions when working undercover, or will she be slurred as a collaborator, and will she ever found out how and why her family were led to their slaughter?

Black Book manages to tie up all these plot points and more in a hugely satisfying manner without ever feeling facile. While never doubting the evil of the Nazi regime or the noble stoicism of the Resistance cause, the film isn't afraid to portray some of the Gestapo as gregarious and fun-loving, nor members of the Resistance as opportunistic and self-serving, with the level of double and triple-crossing dizzying by the denouement. The result is a film as simultaneously thrilling and sobering as war itself, with the starring role providing the astonishing van Houten with the biggest breakout since The Great Escape. As for Verhoeven, he may well have just made the film of his fascinating career, perhaps sharing in common with his heroine the belief that the end will always justify the means.

Black Book will be available in the UK to buy or rent on DVD from April 30.



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