Film review – Black Book (2006)

Controversial Dutch director Paul Verhoeven brought excessive sex and violence into Hollywood with enjoyable high concept films such as RoboCop, Total Recall, Basic Instinct and Starship Troopers. Verhoeven’s new WWII thriller Black Book is his first film in over 5 years and his first Dutch film in over 20.

After the death of her family during a Nazi ambush, Jewish singer Rachel Stein (rising Dutch star Carice van Houten) escapes persecution in Nazi occupied Holland by joining the Dutch resistance. She is soon asked to go undercover and seduce a senior SS man (Sebastian Koch from The Lives of Others) whom she genuinely falls in love with.

Black Book is a European film in theory but it has the production values and melodramatic plot developments of a minor Hollywood film. Verhoeven wants the audience to question their preconceptions about what types of people commit acts of evil or kindness but any serious subject matter gets lost somewhere among all the double crossing, betrayals, supposedly shock revelations and naked breasts. Despite the occasional audacious moment, Black Book does not ever offend or even titillate to the degree that it could, resulting in a film that is mildly entertaining at best.

Originally appeared in The Big Issue, No. 282, 2007

© Thomas Caldwell, 2007