Written by: Michael Den Boer on September 12th, 2007
Theatrical Release Dates: Netherlands, 2006
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Writers: Gerard Soeteman, Paul Verhoeven
Cast: Carice van Houten, Sebastian Koch, Thom Hoffman, Halina Reijn, Waldemar Kobus, Derek de Lint, Christian Berkel, Dolf de Vries, Peter Blok
DVD released: September 25th, 2007
Approximate running time: 155 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Widescreen / 1080 Progressive
Sound: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Dutch, Dolby Digital 5.1 Dutch, Dolby Digital Stereo Dutch
BluRay Release: Tartan Films UK
Region Coding: Region 0 (UK)
Retail Price: £29.99
Synopsis: The Netherlands during World War 2 a Jewish woman named Rachel Stein (Carice van Houten) is forced to hide from the Nazi occupiers. She joins the local resistance after narrowly escaping a Nazi death squad who viciously murder her family. Once a member of the resistance Rachel is given a new name “Ellis de Vries” and a chance encounter with a high ranking member of the SS named Ludwig Müntze gives the resistance a chance to infiltrate the SS.
Black Book (Zwartboek) would mark the return of director Paul Verhoeven to his native land of Holland. After spending twenty years making entertaining films which lacked soul in Hollywood like Robocop, Basic Instinct and Total recall and a few misguided bombs like Showgirls and Hollow Man. This is not to say that this period is not without its merits it is that as a filmmaker Paul Verhoeven all about seemed to have lost his identity. Black Book also resonates more then his more recent films because it is based on historical events which took place in Holland during his youth while living in the Nazi occupied Netherlands.
The story hits all the right notes with no moment ever feeling contrived or predicable. Paul Verhoeven’s direction is some of his most passionate and inspired work since his 1977 film Soldier of Orange. The casting is flawless as each actor/actress totally immerses themselves in their respective roles. The film greatest asset is actress Carice van Houten whose transformation from a Jewish singer named Rachel Stein into the cold as ice spy named Ellis de Vries is remarkable and by the end of the film she will have you under her thumb. The film features several double crosses which only help further distort who can you trust and who is the enemy.
The sets and locations are all recreated down to the utmost detail. This heightens the films sense of realism. The film succeeds on so many levels including making you care for the main protagonist Rachel Stein aka Ellis de Vries even when she crosses the line and clearly is wrong. Sometime films about war tend to get to preachy or have a heavy handed message. To director Paul Verhoeven’s credit he lets the story and its characters speak for themselves. The films of Paul Verhoeven are no stranger to violence and it is portrayed in a more realistic manner then most of his films. Ultimately Black Book is one of the most emotionally moving and heart felt films about the atrocities of World War 2 that I have had the privilege to see.
Black Book comes on a 50 GB dual layer BluRay. The film is presented in a 1080 progressive anamorphic widescreen. The image looks stunning as colors are lively and details just leap from the screen with the utmost clarity. Overall the image looks breath taking and nearly flawless.
This release comes with audio options DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Digital Stereo. All three are in Dutch and all three come with English subtitles. The audio mixes sound very similar with the slight edge going to the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 which offers the most dynamic mix of the lot.
This release comes with two insightful interviews Paul Verhoeven and Carice van Houten and the films original trailer. One minor quibble all the extras appear in a smaller window with in the frame which doesn’t present as big of a problem if you have a 42 inch or larger screen. Hopefully final street version of this release with not present the extras this way. Tartan enters into the Hi Def realm in grand style with their superb BluRay release for Paul Verhoeven’s Black Book.