MRR Review: "Black Out"

Photo Credit: Music Box Films

Rating: NR
Length: 92 minutes
Release Date: February 21, 2014 (New York)
Directed by: Arne Toonen
Genre: Action / Crime / Comedy

"Black Out" tells the tale of a man who retired from a life of crime. Jos Vreeswijk, the retired criminal, wakes up on the morning before his wedding to find a dead body lying next to him, clearly the victim of a murder. Jos possesses no memory of what occurred the night before, and has no idea how he ended up in bed with a corpse.

As the movie evolves, the dead body in his bed becomes the least of the problems faced by Jos. He discovers that he is in the sights of a group of ruthless gangsters. The gangsters believe that Jos stole a whopping 20 kilos of cocaine from them, and they desperately want the coke back.

Jos must dive back into the world of crime to either find the missing coke or deal directly with the threatening gangsters. If he fails to accomplish this task within 24 hours, then his bride is bound to end up in dire trouble.

Based on a novel by Gerben Hellinga, "Black Out" is rather formulaic in its construction. The story features a former con living a straight life and then being forced back into criminality. The novel, in Dutch, is entitled "Merg en Been." The screenplay tracks the story as set out in the novel, including not only the essential plot, but also the manner in which the characters develop through the arc of the film.

Directed by Arne Toonen of the Netherlands, "Black Out" represents his largest cinematic work to date. In developing the project, Toonen made clear his intention to follow the original tale as set forth in the novel, and as closely interpreted through the screenplay. With two other films in generally the same genres, Toonen is masterful in building tension within the film in a manner that initially captivates and then maintains the close attention of moviegoers.

The film's leading character, the retired criminal Jos Vreeswijk, is played by Raymond Thiry. A veteran of several Dutch films, Thiry presents a compelling character in "Black Out." As Jos, Thiry manages to convey positively believable emotional responses to virtually unbelievable situations. These include waking up in bed to a male corpse and having no idea how the body ended up in that spot.

Because of Thiry's well-structured performance, the audience ends up not only rooting for the ex-con as he takes on gangsters and thieves, moviegoers feel for the character and maintain a considerable level of empathy for the fellow. In addition, Thiry is blessed with solid comedic timing. This adds some welcome levity within some of what might otherwise devolve into depressing cinematic scenes as a result of the overall story arc of the movie.

The love interest and fiancée of Jos Vreeswijk, Caroline, is played by Kim van Kooten, another Dutch actor. Quite like the primary male character in the film, van Kooten takes seemingly unbelievable situations, including being targeted by killers within hours of her wedding, and renders them possibilities through her nuanced performance.

The two leads particularly shine in tandem as the suspense builds towards the climax of the film. The juxtaposition of the former con fighting other cons while his true love remains in harm's way is thrilling on the surface and made even more so because of the depth of the characterizations crafted by the two talented performer.

The remaining cast forms what is somewhat described as an ensemble. Although by the very nature of the screenplay, these players perform in groups. This includes the crew of viscous gangsters. Within this ensemble, there are some bright character performances by actors, including Simon Armstrong as the villainous Vlad.

As the primary gangster bent on either regaining the errant cocaine or destroying a woman who is slated to soon walk up the aisle to wed, Simon as Vlad is delectably evil. As is the case of the male and female lead in the film, Armstrong creates a character that is more than a mere caricature of a movie villain. He creates a character this is also multifaceted, and even manages to display some striking humor through the stark coldness of the gangster.

A Dutch production that experienced a limited theatrical release outside of Europe, "Black Out" is a solid selection for a movie buff who enjoys action-adventure films spiced with a bit of comedy. The film is cast well with actors that turn in strong performances from start to finish. Finally, despite the somewhat standard form, template nature of the storyline, the manner in which the individual actors play their roles ensures that the movie remains attention-getting throughout.

Rating: 3 out of 5

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