This demanding, yet often thrilling Paul Verhoeven picture marks his return to his homeland after 20 years in Hollywood. Another "based on true events" story is cogent, surprising, but rarely feeble-minded.
Black Book, spoken in four languages with English subtitles, is a tumultuous, lurid mystery that can be violent, even quite romantic.
Verhoeven's take on the Dutch Resistance during and after WWII centers around a talented vocalist Rachel (Carice van Houten). Rachel is Jewish and can't find a hideout when one is inexplicably blown up.
The distressed woman dyes (all of) her hair, coming across brutal effects of war while fleeing, and getting into the resistance movement, led by a doctor (Thom Hoffman) and a shrewd businessman (Derek de Lint).
The screenplay of this tantalizing, sprawling thriller by the director and Gerard Soeteman has Rachel worming her way into the Nazis high command, including one SS person, effectively played by Sebastian Koch (the staked-out playwright in The Lives of Others). She'll find out that matters are definitely grayer than expected, even after the conflict concludes.
The film is swiftly prolonged between drama and action, both passionate in their own ways, maybe in some cases gratuitous. There is prurient pleasures for those who know what the Dutch director can do on celluloid, and van Houten has quite a screen presence and chemistry with Koch in ways that make us understand her perserverance, in addition to her pain and vigor. One witnesses the flaws of the characters, their moral resignations, and sympathies to the most ruthless, sinister folks.
Black Book may be remembered for how often van Houten is disrobed, besides her perky colleague friend (Halina Reijn). Yet, for those who remember how Verhoeven can capture the danger and eroticism in relationships and locate the unlikeliest of heroes, his instinct is strangely moving and vital, not basic.