Two takes this week on Paul Verhoeven’s WWII spectacle Black Book:
The real value of Paul Verhoeven’s career, above the lubricity of his craftsmanship, comes in the director’s total committal to bug-up-the-ass ambivalence. In moving from Holland to Hollywood in the Eighties, and subsequently commanding massive budgets, he retained a distinctly “art-house” reticence to inject moral clarity into his work. Unkind reviews revealed a none-too-subtle elitism from writers who might have no trouble endorsing similar opacity safely fenced off in the subtitle ghetto, but who didn’t trust the multiplex patron to navigate ambiguity. As such, he’s never enjoyed the unanimous praise that’s greeted far lesser artists—on either end of the highbrow-lowbrow spectrum—whose themes have overlapped his work (the Wachowskis, Michael Haneke), though I can’t imagine Verhoeven crying much over it.
Click here to read Nick Pinkerton’s “Crass Course” at indieWIRE.
The apprehension among Verhoeven skeptics that greets his “doing” World War II has a familiar ring to it, and not just because Black Book retreads some of the same territory as the director’s 1977 Dutch Resistance thriller, Soldier of Orange. The reception cliché “Pop Master of Spectacle Goes Serious” is still grounded, in its modern form, in Schindler’s List; Black Book, Verhoeven’s post-Hollow Man rebirth after six years of silence, comes as a forceful career punctuation mark, even if it’s not quite the post-blockbuster penance of Spielberg’s Holocaust drama. Surface similarity springs out between two pop modernists pilloried for low-art sins: Spielberg’s sentimentality and Verhoeven’s vulgarity, both puppet masters of conscience-consuming spectacles.
Click here to read Nicolas Rapold’s “Waste-Deep” at Reverse Shot.