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Heroes of the Zeroes: Black Book

by on February 5, 2010
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Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films from 2000 to 2009.

“Black Book”
Rated R

A sultry spin on the notion that good and evil in wartime aren’t mutually exclusive, “Black Book” stood as Paul Verhoeven’s finest film since “Total Recall.”

This foreign-language import (given U.S. release in 2007) sprinted through its 147 minutes with all the momentum of five films and resurrected classic 1940s spy-thriller tropes while casting off Production Code antiseptics. That said, “Black Book” restrained itself by Verhoeven’s standards — erotic but not lurid, risqué or misogynistic, violent but not overly bloody or gratuitous.

Carice van Houten — a long-legged, radiant matinee-idol beauty — plays Rachel, a Dutch Jew circa 1944 who joins a resistance and solicits pillow-talk intelligence from Nazi bigwig Muntze (Sebastian Koch). When Muntze realizes Rachel’s both a Jew and a saboteur — and keeps her secret — they’re ensconced in further dangerous activity rife with the generosity of “evil” and the inhumanity of “good.”

Much like “Inglourious Basterds,” it’s the handsomely mounted, heedlessly pulpy modernist World War II thriller that “The Good German” and “Valkyrie” failed to be.  It’s a dizzying rush of daring rescues, sexual intrigue, treachery, betrayal, gunfights, hasty conclusions, harrowing consequences and nuanced characters.

“Black Book” also zips along with potent, intelligent ethical and emotional components lacking in many of Verhoeven’s slick Hollywood films — finally making good on his quote that discussing sex doesn’t mean eliminating morality from the equation.

Inspired by true events, Verhoeven’s film traced the last vestiges of humanity and honesty in a falling Reich and documented the disgraceful retaliations spurred by dormant hatred among those persecuted.