This WWII thriller is a return to form for Verhoeven after his hit-and-miss Hollywood journey, featuring an exceptional performance by Carice van Houten as a Jewish singer who attempts to infiltrate the Gestapo in Nazi-occupied Netherlands.
Dir. Paul Verhoeven
2006 | Netherlands/Germany | Drama/Thriller/War | 146 mins | 2.35:1 | Dutch, German, English & Hebrew
M18 (passed clean) for some strong violence, graphic nudity, sexuality and language
Cast: Carice van Houten, Sebastian Koch, Thom Hoffman
Plot: In the Nazi-occupied Netherlands during WWII, a Jewish singer infiltrates the regional Gestapo headquarters for the Dutch resistance.
Awards: Won Young Cinema Award – Best International Film & Nom. for Golden Lion (Venice); Nom. for Best Foreign Language Film (BAFTAs)
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Subject Matter: Moderate – WWII; Spy
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
Viewed: In Theatres
First Published: 5 May 2008
Paul Verhoeven makes a return to his Dutch roots and writes and directs one of the year’s most powerful films. 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.
Furthermore, the 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.
“Does it never end?”
Without a doubt, the star of the show belongs to Carice von Houten. She gives possibly 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 what will likely be an elusive Oscar nomination.
In one scene, she 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. In a nutshell, this is a return to form for one of the Netherlands’ most marketable filmmakers.
[…] If Black Book (2006) was a comeback of sorts for director Paul Verhoeven (after his contentious Hollywood phase), Elle has upped the mantle and would certainly be regarded as one of his best films, not just of his late period (he turns 79 this year) but of his entire filmography. […]