In some quarters the director Paul Verhoeven is now eternally infamous for Sharon Stone’s is she/isn’t she leg-crossing moment in Basic Instinct. But he came to prominence with a Second World War movie, Soldier Of Orange, in 1977. Black Book sees Verhoeven return to his native land, his native Dutch tongue and the 1939-45 war in an engrossing drama focusing on one young Jewish woman (played by the remarkable Carice van Houten), a member of the Dutch resistance who finds herself right at the heart of the Nazi war machine. It is a familiar genre but Verhoeven injects fresh elements into it – notably dark humour, lashings of nudity and a fuzzy delineation between goodies and baddies. So he’s not that far off the territory he explored in Basic Instinct. Where Verhoeven does strike out is in his examination of a claim that occasionally rears its head – that the Jews made mass extermination easy by being too passive. Verhoeven gives the lie to that suggestion simply and emphatically – in the shape of Van Houten’s redoubtable Jewish heroine. Black Book is a bold idiosyncratic film and a big return to form by the director. If there’s a quibble, it’s that towards the end the hitherto beautiful pacing is dropped in favour of a gabbled dash for the finish line. For a Dutch film the budget was huge (€16 million) but it looks to me like the money ran out, making this that rarity among films – a long film that really should be even longer.
© Steve Morrissey 2007