Black Book (2008)

Director:  Paul Verhoeven
Cast:  Carice van HoutenSebastian KochThom Hoffman
Plot:  In the Nazi-occupied Netherlands during World War II, a Jewish singer infiltrates the regional Gestapo headquarters for the Dutch resistance.

Genre:  Drama / Thriller / War
Awards:  Nom. for Golden Lion (Venice).  Nom. for 1 BAFTA - Best Foreign Language Film.
Runtime:  145min
Rating:  M18 for some strong violence, graphic nudity, sexuality and language.


Black Book is actually a 2007 picture.  But to be fair, it will be recognized as a 2008 picture and will be allowed to compete in my annual 'Definitive Cut, 2008' ranking.  Paul Verhoeven makes a return to his Dutch roots and writes and directs one of the year’s most powerful films. 

Verhoeven and German filmmaker Wolfgang Petersen (Das Boot) are somewhat alike; they make great films in their native homeland but after succumbing to the lure of Hollywood, the quality of their works suffer consequently too.

 In America, Verhoeven's Robocop and Total Recall were rather well-received, but films such as Hollow Man and Showgirls were embarrassing flops.  Similarly, Petersen's Troy was good, but Poseidon and The Perfect Storm weren't.

Black Book is a true story about a Jewish woman who volunteers to infiltrate the Nazi's inner circle by having a sordid affair with a high-ranking Nazi officer.  Simply put, it's Lust, Caution set in WWII Europe.  Verhoeven's direction is supreme; he crafts Black Book in a way that works like a high-octane thriller rather than a slow-paced drama. 

It's a complete change in perspective as nearly all of WWII Nazi pictures are made to be the latter (e.g. Schindler's List, The Pianist, Downfall).  Furthermore, Verhoeven's screenplay works like a mystery; the story snakes its way through numerous climaxes and twists, often leaving viewers in a 'what's gonna happen next?' frame of mind.

Without a doubt, the star of the show belongs to Carice von Houten.  She gives the year's best female lead performance (it will take someone of substantial pedigree to really rival her display here).  Her performance is daring yet earnest enough to deserve an Oscar nomination.  

She bares her breasts in many scenes and even dyes her pubic hair golden on screen.  But what is more remarkable is her ability to restrain her emotions for most parts of the film, only to let it explode when the finale draws near.

Black Book features excellent action set-pieces that work on the level of suspense. The violence presented is at times very shocking and visceral, like it's out of a Cronenberg picture.  After Black Book, Verhoeven should refrain from going back to
Hollywood.  In a nutshell, this is a return to form for one of Holland's most marketable filmmakers. 


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