Film Review: Black OutDiverting and well-cast but wholly unoriginal.
An underworld pastiche that wears its many influences proudly, Arne Toonen's Black Out occasionally preempts a ready-to-complain viewer by having its own characters do the work—the vengeful crime lord, for instance, who uses Al Pacino's famous "pulling me back in" line to describe his victim's plight. With originality a moot point, the Dutch film has just enough panache to please hungry genre buffs; theatrical bookings will be short-lived, but it may have a respectable life on VOD.
The guy being unwillingly drawn back to the felonious life is Jos (Raymond Thiry), who years ago gave up the enforcement biz for a job waiting tables. There he met Caroline (Kim Van Kooten), fell in love, and convinced her to marry him over the protests of her upper-crust lawyer father Rudolf (Ursul de Geer).
Tomorrow's their wedding day, but Jos wakes up with a hangover and some very big problems of a very familiar nature: a dead man he doesn't recognize in his bed, former associates claiming he's stolen 20 kilos of their cocaine, long gaps in his memory, and so on. For the rest of this hectic day, Jos will dodge calls from his fiancée while reconnecting with former friends and enemies, trying to resolve his many issues while deducing what happened to him in the last day or two.
These characters are artificially unusual in the manner of contemporary crime pix—the gay Russian gangster who used to dance for the Bolshoi; the sexpot sisters who work as enforcers; the drug dealers who'd rather be dog groomers. But if the script's adherence to this convention is lazy, Toonen allows his almost uniformly strong cast to underplay the quirks; their performances have more personality than they'd seem to on the page. Thiry, in particular, brings a taciturn masculinity that carries the film along.
If this vision of Amsterdam's seedy side recalls the London of Guy Ritchie and the Los Angeles of Quentin Tarantino, Toonen is smart not to try to mimic Ritchie's adrenalized style or Tarantino's Pop-savant cool. The movie seems to know it's not their equal and, in owning up to its many points of reference, asks us not to judge harshly but to go along for the ride. Placing a gangster's secret HQ right behind the pins in a bowling alley may be one genre-nod too many, reminding us of the infinite invention the Coen Brothers brought to a similar I-don't-have-your-money tale in The Big Lebowski. But it's the only hint of unfulfilled ambition in this predictable but enjoyable programmer.