Paul Verhoeven and “subtle” don’t go together. That’s why a war film is such an exciting concept from him; it’s a film that won’t hold back. Black Book doesn’t disappoint despite a third act that crumbles slightly. This is a solid, well put together WWII thriller loaded with violence, nudity, romance, and numerous plot twists.
Carice van Houten stars as a Jewish singer who becomes involved with the Dutch resistance against the invading Germans. She takes things to a new level, forging a romance with a high-ranking German officer to set the resistance trap. When she actually falls for him, the plot takes a turn into dramatic territory.
Black Book, despite nearing the two and a half hour mark, is breathlessly paced. There’s always something happening, whether it’s an action set piece, a dramatic event, plot twist, or double cross. It’s exciting, well acted, and presents a unique side of the war that films have rarely touched upon. There are numerous resistance films, but none that deal with it in terms of seduction, and certainly not this graphic.
Being a Paul Verhoeven movie, it immediately disqualifies the film for the squeamish or the prudish. Nothing is held back, nor should it be. Nudity is constant, and blood flows freely. It never feels over the top or unnecessary either, becoming a critical part of the plot of used for effect. Some will see the nudity as exploitation, others will see how it makes the character vulnerable, loyal, embarrassed, and humiliated.
While the entire film is held together nicely, it finally begins to fall apart towards the end. The number of people double-crossing each other becomes tiresome, confusing, and convoluted. It begins relying on some contrived events to come together, not to mention some luck as well.
It spoils an otherwise gripping film, loaded with reasons to watch. Van Houten is superb in the lead role, and Verhoeven doesn’t hold back anything. Despite the failed third act, there’s plenty of entertainment value to be had from everything that comes before it. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Movie]
Sony delivers an outstanding AVC encode for Black Book. Colors are beautifully saturated, and the contrast delivers on all levels. Blacks are incredibly rich without obscuring detail and despite a few blown out shots that are a source choice, the bright whites hold together as well. Facial detail is remarkable, and the film’s grain is left intact. The image never falters, even in darker, more muted sequences. This one looks spectacular. [xrr rating=5/5 label=Video]
Likewise, an uncompressed PCM Dutch mix delivers the expected goods (there is no dub). Bass is deep when needed, and the surrounds are constantly engaged. Rainstorms, gunfire, large cheering crowds, and the music all deliver enveloping audio. Tracking is typically excellent, especially as planes fly overhead. Gunfire can sound a little random, but it’s hard to follow this flaw during the tense action scenes. [xrr rating=5/5 label=Audio]
The US release comes with a commentary from Verhoeven, who speaks consistently throughout about the making of the film, and some of the controversy it could generate given the content. A 25-minute featurette will deliver some of the same information for those not interested in trying to decipher a thick accent during the commentary. Some trailers for other Sony movies are the last pieces to the disc. [xrr rating=2/5 label=Extras]