An irresistible resistance thriller
Gerald Aaron is spellbound by a tale of Jewish survival in wartime Holland and impressed by a Golden Globe winner
Black Book (15)
Paul Verhoeven, back in his native Holland, propels this fast-paced, intricately plotted, consistently compelling wartime thriller at a rousing pace. The spellbinding story, centred on a young German-Jewish woman seeking revenge for the betrayal and subsequent murder of her parents by the Nazis in occupied Holland in 1944, never relaxes its grip. It cunningly subverts genre clichés, features suspense worthy of Hitchcock, and the action sequences are stirring.
Result? A masterly thriller that really thrills and also succeeds in exposing the brutality of the Nazis. And within the context of an exciting adventure, it makes disturbingly potent points about the rancid nature of antisemitism.
The Dutch Resistance is central to the narrative: chillingly (as portrayed by Verhoeven and co-writer Gerard Soeteman) some Resistance members appear to be as anti-Jewish as the occupying Germans. At the start of the film, when “heroine” Rachel Rosenthal (Carice van Houten) is hiding out with an unyielding Christian farming family, she is told: “If the Jews had listened to Jesus, they wouldn’t be in this mess now.”
After her rural sanctuary i s bombed, Rachel is reunited with her family only to see them killed by the SS during an escape attempt organised by Resistance worker Van Gein (Peter Blok). Rachel survives the massacre, goes blonde and agrees to bed Gestapo chief Muentze (Sebastian Koch) so that the Resistance can infiltrate SS headquarters. After more ingenious twists, Rachel is enmeshed in treacherous double- and treble-crosses and continuous danger which does not end when the Allies liberate Holland.
Impressive period detail adds dramatic power, Verhoeven’s assured grasp of his complex material never falters, his characters are complex and credibly flawed, his pacing and staging are flawless. Van Houten’s extraordinary performance is the centrepiece in a powerful, mesmerising movie. Babel (15)
Babel’s Golden Globe for Best Drama is entirely justified. Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga deliver a stunning drama whose four narrative strands — two set in Morocco, one in Tokyo and another largely in Mexico — featuring fascinatingly disparate characters who turn out to be powerfully and craftily linked.
Unlike the overrated Crash, Babel’s dissimilar characters genuinely convince. Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett as an American couple overtaken by tragedy in North Africa and Gael Garcia Bernal as a feckless Mexican are excellent, as are all the performances. A true ensemble drama. Infamous (15)
Last year, Philip Seymour Hoffman won the Oscar playing Truman Capote in the saga of the acclaimed book, In Cold Blood. Writer-director Douglas McGrath differently and very entertainingly covers much the same ground in Infamous with British actor Toby Jones as Capote.
Jones is camp, funny and always believable with a superb portrayal. He effortlessly holds centre screen against a strong supporting cast that includes Sandra Bullock, Sigourney Weaver, Jeff Daniels and Gwyneth Paltrow. Rocky Balboa (12A)
Once upon a time (well, 30 years ago) unknown actor Sylvester Stallone wrote the screenplay and hit the jackpot, playing an aspiring prizefighter who makes it big.
That film, Rocky, won the Best Picture Oscar and created a character so resilient that Stallone was able to return to him in sequel after sequel. Now the 60-year-old star, doubling as screenwriter and director, recklessly revives his Italian Stallion in a fairytale fable pitting past-it Rocky against the current heavyweight champion in a match in Las Vegas.
The climactic bout is patently against the odds. Amazingly, Stallone’s schmaltz-sodden saga also succeeds against the odds. You may not believe a frame of it, but it is nonetheless highly enjoyable on its own simplistic terms.
Carice Van Houten and Sebastian Koch in Paul Verhoeven’s exceptional Dutch wartime drama, Black Book