Tuesday, February 13, 2007

I Just Got Out My Little BLACK BOOK...

One of the more disappointing things about this year’s Oscar nominations was that Paul Verhoeven’s BLACK BOOK failed to score a nomination as Best Foreign Film (it was Holland’s official submission), despite having made the short list of 9 titles from the Academy (Almodovar’s VOLVER was likewise passed over, making the whole thing one big head-scratcher). It would have been a particular delight to see the film nominated, not just because it was fully deserving of the honor but because Verhoeven deserves it, too. I’m the first to admit that the man is not always on (I never was the biggest BASIC INSTINCT fan) but when he is (like he was with STARSHIP TROOPERS) he’s wonderful and BLACK BOOK finds Verhoeven very much back on track. This is his first Dutch film since 1984’s THE FOURTH MAN and a wonderful bounce back from HOLLOW MAN a few years ago. This is Verhoeven’s version of a WWII thriller and some have called it SHOWGIRLS LIST for its mixture of Verhoeven-style sexual frankness and a Jewish resistance drama and on one hand, that’s one way of looking at it, although to compare it with SHOWGIRLS does it a major disservice. It’s a serious film, but it does include moments of Verhoeven playfulness (and lots of nudity) that I love so damn much. It’s not SALON KITTY, either, and there’s sex and action and violence, so there’s no reason this can’t be a hit, maybe even breaking out of the arthouse scene and taking off with the mainstream a bit. The film is anchored by an excellent lead performance by Carice Van Houten (who could very easily become the next big international sex symbol) and a smart script (co-written by Verhoeven) that doesn’t trivialize the resistance movement and the plight of the Dutch Jews or speechify or bore the audience. What’s particularly pleasing about BLACK BOOK is that you can tell Verhoeven has a passion for the material (he should, since he’s been developing it for over 20 years) so he’s doing everything right for it. The way the shots are composed, the music he uses, the editing, all of it feels like Verhoeven getting his creative juices flowing again and it’s invigorating to watch. He’s having fun and getting something off his chest and as a fan and audience member, that’s what I want from him. BLACK BOOK is something that I find to be rare in movies these days, an all-around excellent picture. Smart, sexy, suspenseful, well acted, beautifully made, this is what movies should be. Verhoeven proves with this one that he’s one of the best filmmakers around these days providing you just get the hell out of his way and let him do what he does, and does very well.

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