Paul Verhoeven’s years in Hollywood were always either about action or about provocatively pretty women. He reached a peak with Basic Instinct, going downhill right after. Finally, he came to his senses; Hollywood isn’t the only place in the world with beautiful actresses. Black Book proves he can find a beauty everywhere he goes, in this case his homeland, Holland.
Rachel is a beautiful Jewish gal, an ex-cabaret performer, who hides from the Nazis somewhere in the Dutch countryside. When she tries to escape along with her family and fellow fugitives, they fall to an ambush and she is the only survivor. She is found by a farmer and with his help, she changes her name and joins the local partisans. In her first undercover mission she falls for the handsome, sophisticated Nazi officer and life becomes even more complicated.
The Dutchman has in his hands a fairly clever script which attempts more than ever to mix the stereotypes this particular era produced. A Jewish girl anything but innocent, a group of partisans with various approaches to the revolution, a moderate Nazi officer who isn’t a sadistic pig as opposed to a cunning one who is, and a series of betrayals, comprise a story that wouldn’t hurt to be shorter and simpler. In the end, it doesn’t matter a lot since Verhoeven’s new muse, the naughty, lovable Carice Van Houten, steals the show from the ambitious script itself.
Like he did earlier in his career, the director worships his star with his camera seduced by her dominating presence. In the background we watch the two very different Nazi officers fight for local power and personal agendas while the freedom fighters can’t figure out who sabotages their struggle. The eventual turnovers due to a certain black book are a bit soap-operatic, as is Rachel’s never-ending drama and hopeless love. Nevertheless the lack of moral lecturing keeps the film interesting.
Acting is good, especially by both the Nazi officers, Sebastian Coch and Waldemar Cobus. No words are sufficient to describe the charms of Carice Van Houten. Cinematography and camera work are delightful.
Too bad Verhoeven blew a chance to make an overall great film.
The Upside: Carice Van Houten.
The Downside: The ill-matched humor that has no use in the film’s flow.
On the Side: I have mentioned the same name three times already in one review.
Final Grade: B
Loukas Tsouknidas is a film critic for Film School Rejects.