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Rated 2.94 stars
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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Costly Revenge
by Diana Saenger

Many movies have been made about World War II and the thousands of stories that resonated during the injustices of those years. Yet just when we think we don't want to go through the heartache of watching another such film, up pops a movie like Black Book. This story about a beautiful singer left homeless when her safe-house is destroyed not only enthralls us, it also reminds us that we continue to watch these movies because they celebrate an undeniable spirit of hope and optimism.

Rachel Stein (Carice Van Houten), a young Jewish singer, has had to give up her home, her family and even her career to hide out from the Germans in 1944. When her family members decide they must separate for safety reasons, Rachel finds residence with the Tsjempkema family in rural Holland. Just when things seem routine, a German fighter plane bombs the safe house. Because Rachel was outside at the time, she's the only survivor. She turns to the only other friend around, Rob (Michel Huisman), who takes her to the home of Notary Smaal (Dolf de Vries), a lawyer who helps Jews escape from Holland, and a man who knows her family. He arranges the details and makes a note of it in a small black book. Once the family is reunited, they're excited to be together and on their way to another safe place. Tragically, the boat they board is a ruse and blows up. After determining that her family members are dead, Rachael jumps in the river and survives again.

Gerben Kuipers (Derek de Lint), a leader of the Dutch resistance, rescues Rachel and gives her shelter and a job. Caught up now in their fight, Rachel dyes her hair blonde, changes her name to Ellis de Vries, and joins the resistance movement helping Hans Akkermans (Thom Hoffman) smuggle guns aboard a train. Almost caught, the astute Rachel runs into a private car and finds Ludwig Müntze (Sebastian Koch), the head of the Dutch SD, a Nazi intelligence service.  

Ludwig finds Rachel quite appealing, and when Gerben suggests Rachel get closer to Ludwig, she does so -- and soon they are passionate lovers. Ludwig makes her a clerk at the compound where he's in command. When he discovers her dark hair roots, he realizes she's Jewish, but Ludwig is really a good German, opposed to brutality. He's also compassionate with Rachel since his own wife and children were also killed in the war effort. He says nothing about his discovery.

Working as a clerk, Rachel meets her co-worker, the fun and zany Ronnie (Halina Reijn), a singer who loves entertaining the Nazi troops with their out-of-control parties. Some of these scenes get quite graphic as director Paul Verhoeven explores the immorality and promiscuous sexual activity of the Nazi troops. Ronnie is playful with all but remains faithful to Franken (Waldemar Kobus), the second in command to Ludwig. While Ludwig is a kind and reasonable man, Franken is a sadistic German dedicated to Hitler and determined to extinguish all Jews.

Franken is the biggest threat when members of the Dutch resistance, including Gerben's beloved son, are caught and ordered to be killed. Only Rachel can form a plan to get them out of their jail cells. But can she do this and survive herself? Will she help Ludwig when he, too, is arrested and condemned to die?

Dutch filmmaker Verhoeven, who co-wrote the script (with Gerard Soeteman) for Black Book based on historical events, has created an enthralling film. While fans snubbed his sexy romp Showgirls, Verhoeven has shown influential filmmaking vision in such films as Basic Instinct, Total Recall and Robocop. In Black Book, aided by Karl Walter Lindenlaub's exceptional cinematography, Verhoeven gives us a yet another glimpse of a horrific time in history through mostly one captivating character.

From the moment Rachel losses her family, her struggle to survive holds viewers attention. Carice Van Houten, a beautiful and talented Dutch actress, is exceptional in her role as a woman who suffers devastation that turns into anger and then risks her own life for revenge. There are scenes in the film -- particularly one -- that I can't imagine most actresses doing, yet Houten's fervor and collaboration with Verhoeven and her co-stars make this film resonate.

Black Book unfolds in German and Dutch languages with English subtitles, but don't let that keep you away. The way Verhoeven creates a dance between foe and friend offers moments of danger, romance, insight, and edge-of-of-your-seat drama.

(Released by Sony Pictures Classics and rated "R" for strong violence, graphic nudity, sexuality and language.)

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