A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this subtitled World War II drama from the director of Basic Instinct is intense from start to finish. Wartime takes its toll on all the characters, robbing them of their humanity. The lead character, Rachel/Ellis, sleeps with the enemy to infiltrate their turf, and people are dispensed with as the killers see fit. The violence is frequent and bloody, the sex is quite graphic, and characters swear, drink, and smoke.
What's the story?
BLACK BOOK chronicles the survival journey of Rachel Stein (Carice van Houten), a Jewish chanteuse who becomes a spy for the Dutch Resistance after her entire family is slaughtered by the Nazis. Rachel goes undercover to seduce a Gestapo officer (Sebastian Koch) so she can gain access to his office and plant a microphone there. But is the enemy truly an enemy? And are her comrades to be trusted?
Is it any good?
No question about it: Paul Verhoeven's Black Book (aka Zwartboek) is a World War II thriller that still manages to surprise -- no small thing, considering how many like it have been made. Van Houten is outstanding -- courageous and conflicted, bold and vulnerable, her emotions accessible through a simple gesture (the tilt of her head, the slump in her walk) or even a flick of her eyes. She's incandescent in every frame, even when she's covered entirely in feces (a scene that's disturbing in its plainness and cruelty).
The plot's somewhat rudimentary feel hobbles the storytelling. And, except for the leads, the characters are obviously good or bad, even when the filmmaker thinks he's being subtle. But objections like that aside, what's left is a movie that proves that Verhoeven's talent is bigger than Showgirls and Basic Instinct. The last few minutes, which capture a post-war Ellis (now back to Rachel) in an idyll as far removed from tragedy as can be, are actually moving.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the film's notions of good and evil. Are "bad guys" and "good guys" clearly delineated? Should they be? Also, what drives Ellis to place herself in the line of fire? Is it altruism or revenge? How could she fall in love with a Nazi, when Nazis killed her family? What drives a person to betray others for their own gain? Families also can discuss what this movie has in common, if anything, with director Paul Verhoeven's earlier, infamously sensationalistic films, like Basic Instinct and Showgirls. Does it share any characteristics with those movies? Do you think filmmakers have a certain style that affects all of their projects?
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