"War Is Not Pretty"
Inspired by true events, BLACK BOOK is a thrilling, intense but excessive Dutch drama about Rachel Stein (Carice van Houten), a young Jewish woman who falls in love with the Captain of the Gestapo (Sebastian Koch) in Holland in the fall of 1944.
The movie begins in Israel in 1956 where an older Rachel recalls her time in Holland at the end of World War II and the fall of the Nazi regime. Cut to 1944, when Rachel’s safe house is bombed and she must race to reunite with her family and cross the border into liberated territory. No sooner is she with her family on the boat to freedom than Nazi officers ambush the boat and everyone is slaughtered. Rachel narrowly escapes the onslaught.
Soon, she finds herself surrounded by a team of resistance fighters who are working to infiltrate the heart of the Nazi stronghold in Holland. Dyeing her hair to hide her Jewish heritage and now working at the Gestapo headquarters, she must use every tool she has, including her sexuality, in order to survive. Not long after, she finds herself not only in the bed but also in the heart of one of the chief Gestapo officers, who quickly learns of her Jewish heritage yet decides to keep it secret because of his feelings for her.
As the members of the Resistance plan an attack, a turncoat in their team sets an ambush for them. No one can be trusted. Lies, deceit, betrayal, and treachery are the rules of the game, and Rachel must learn how to play by those rules if she is to survive.
As far as quality, BLACK BOOK is thrilling and engaging with plenty of intrigue and plot twists. The director deftly weaves together characters and sub-plots with mastery and skill.
The movie does fail in one area of the suspense. The audience’s full investment in Rachel’s peril is somewhat nullified by the fact that, at the beginning of the movie, she is safe in Israel in 1956. Thus, seeing her in dangerous situations in 1944 does not hold the gripping emotionalism of “will she or won’t she survive this?” because the audience already knows that she survives.
The content is also unfortunately hard. From strong language, graphic violence, sex, and explicit nudity, including full frontal male and female nudity, most audiences will avoid this movie. It illustrates that war and base human survival is not pretty, but the content is gratuitous and unnecessary. For these reasons, along with some anti-Semitic elements and mixed political worldviews lacking a strong moral focus, MOVIEGUIDE® must rate BLACK BOOK as excessive (Minus Three).
(H, B, Co, Acap, C, Ab, LLL, VVV, SS, NNN, AA, D, MM) General humanist worldview lacking a strong moral or religious focus, set in Holland at the end of World War II, about a Jewish woman who helps the Resistance against the anti-Semitic National Socialists from Germany (who are mostly viewed as villains) but falls in love with a pragmatic Gestapo officer who hides her identity and link to the Resistance because of his feelings of love and compassion for her with a strong mix of differing political ideologies including elements of National Socialism, Communism, some anti-capitalism, and mention of fascism, also some elements of Christianity and Judaism with Scripture quoted, sarcastic mention of one person’s conversion to Christianity, some anti-Semitism during the Nazi regime and one Christian man makes mention that “if the Jews listened to Jesus, they wouldn’t be in this mess right now”; at least 41 obscenities (including several "f" words) and 16 mostly strong profanities; graphic violence includes family is killed when the house is bombed in an air raid, dead bodies are shown, a group of Jews are massacred on a boat by Nazis while trying to escape into liberated territory, several shoot-out scenes where people, two men wrestle and choke each other, a Nazi is executed, liberated people torture the Germans once the Nazi regime has fallen, woman has human waste poured on her, mass graves and dead bodies are shown, and a man is suffocated in a wooden box; strong sexual content includes several scenes of unmarried kissing, implied fornication and depicted sexuality, one scene where people listen on hidden microphone to couple committing fornication, woman strips in front of drunken soldiers as they grab and kiss her, and several scenes of men groping women; full female nudity in a two separate scenes, full frontal male nudity includes a man urinating, several scenes of upper female nudity (mostly in a sexual context), and one scene of captives being forced to strip; major alcohol consumption includes not only light toasts with champagne but also heavy gin drinking and drunkenness both implied and depicted; cigarette smoking in several scenes; and miscellaneous immorality includes lying, deceit, betrayal, treachery, and espionage.
Inspired by true events, BLACK BOOK is a thrilling, intense but excessive Dutch drama about Rachel Stein, a young Jewish woman hiding in Holland in the fall of 1944. Rachel’s safe house is bombed and her family slaughtered. Soon, she finds herself surrounded by Resistance fighters working to infiltrate the Nazi stronghold in Holland. Hiding her Jewish heritage and working at Gestapo headquarters, Rachel must use every tool she has, including her sexuality, to survive. She finds herself in the bed and in the heart of a pragmatic Gestapo officer, who quickly learns of her background yet decides to keep it secret. Lies, deceit, betrayal, and treachery are the rules of the game. Rachel must learn how to play by those rules to survive.
BLACK BOOK is thrilling and engaging, with plenty of intrigue and plot twists. It deftly weaves together characters and sub-plots with mastery and skill. The whole movie is a flashback, however, so viewers know that Rachel survives. This undercuts the movie's jeopardy. Furthermore, the movie contains lots of gratuitous, excessive foul language, graphic violence, sex, and explicit nudity, and lacks a strong, positive moral focus.