(Review originally written at 15 September 2006)

More than 20 years after his last Dutch movie, Verhoeven returns to his native country with the movie "Zwartboek". Of course expectations were high and people from both the Netherlands and those outside of it, who are familiar with his earlier Dutch movies, eagerly awaited this movie, probably expecting a new "Soldaat van Oranje". With all those high anticipations, which also must have putted lots of pressure on Verhoeven's shoulders, the movie could only disappoint, like unfortunately too often is the case by 'hyped' and highly anticipated movies. To most professional Dutch movie critics this movie was a slight disappointment, probably expecting way too much of it. Granted that "Zwartboek" does have its flaws but overall this movie surpassed my expectations, mainly since the movie is a well balanced mix of Verhoeven's earlier Dutch work and his later Hollywood works. It provides the movie with an unique and straight-forward as ever style with lots of spectacular and entertaining moments and some fine acting. Make sure not to expect a new "Soldaat van Oranje" like movie and you'll be able to enjoy and be impressed by the movie for what it is.

To be honest the movie didn't started off well. The beginning is messy, with way too much happening on screen in a too short amount of time. It's unclear were the movie is heading to and what for a kind of movie it is going to be. There isn't a main plot line which doesn't help to make the movie interesting or easy to watch. Luckily the second halve is much better and completely blew me away. I really didn't expected to see so much action and tense and spectacular moments. The movie starts of as a typical Dutch WW II drama but quickly turns into a spectacular action/thriller with moments that really impress.

I like Paul Verhoeven movies, both his Dutch as his Hollywood movies, for several reasons. One of them is that he can always tell a dramatic and powerful story in a heavy impressive but yet also always entertaining way. His movies always have one or multiple messages in it but they are disguised so well into the story (also kudos to Gerard Soeteman for that of course) that is doesn't ever get distracting or feels overdone and preachy but still it works unconsciously effective and powerful nevertheless. Another reason why I love Verhoeven movies is that he's never afraid to show the dark side of people. "Zwartboek" teaches us that nothing in this world is completely black and white and not everything and everyone is completely right or wrong, good or bad.

Despite the movie its beginning, the movie is well written with some good and interesting characters in it. The story takes some great thriller kind of twists and turns, which also both helps the drama and action moments work out. It has some misses but overall it has way more hits, which makes "Zwartboek" probably not the best Dutch movie since years but certainly the most interesting and surprising one. The fact that the story is completely told from a woman's point of view makes the movie all the more powerful and believable, as well as unique and interesting.

Had Verhoeven not worked in America for several years, this movie would had had a completely different look and style. Verhoeven his 'Hollywood' style can be found back in this movie. Mainly of course in its action but also mostly in its professionalism in terms of directing style, camera-work and pacing. "Zwarttboek" probably is more 'Hollywood' than 'European' in terms of style and storytelling, which should mean that persons who aren't familiar with European movies should be able to enjoy this movie as well. Also still Verhoeven's own unique distinctive style in this movie is notable, meaning lots of nudity, sex and graphic violence but it all serves a purpose and therefor doesn't feel overdone or unneeded.

The acting in this movie is top-class, from both the Dutch actors as well as the Germans. Every well known and respected Dutch actor stood in line to work with Verhoeven on his first Dutch movie since several decades. Verhoeven gratefully took advantage of this and the movie is filled with some of the best Dutch actors around at the moment. People from the Netherlands already knew it but now the rest of the world also knows that Carice van Houten is one great actress, with a great charisma and look. She carries the movie for most of its time and does this in an highly convincing and impressive way. This movie surely means her internationally breakthrough, at least if she is up for that. She further more has a great chemistry with basically every of her fellow actors in this movie, especially with Sebastian Koch and Halina Reijn. Actors in this movie who were also really good were Thom Hoffman and Derek de Lint and German actors Waldemar Kobus and Christian Berkel. Johnny de Mol however feels out of place and he plays an highly unconvincing character that only works distracting.

The movie is really professional and good looking, despite its very low-budget (even though its the most expensive Dutch movie ever made). The great cinematography by Karl Walter Lindenlaub gives the movie its own identity and great look. The movie looks especially professional with its action. For some reason action and shoot sequences never look convincing in Dutch movies but this movie is a glorious exception.

Will "Zwartboek" win an Oscar for best foreign film? As much as I want to see Verhoeven finally win an Oscar and get some recognition, I don't think it will win. "Zwartboek" is probably too spectacular and 'Hollywood' for that. I think that the academy would prefer a more heavy drama with a more serious told story, that is more powerful than entertaining.

More entertaining and impressive than powerful but a fine sweet surprise nevertheless that honestly surpassed my expectations.


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About Frank Veenstra

Watches movies...writes about them...and that's it for now.
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