A movie which is both highly entertaining and thought provoking, Black Book is about the most Hollywood-like movie to ever come out of Europe. Paul Verhoeven returned to Holland after 20 years to make this epic (in Dutch and German for the most part) about the Dutch resistance in WW II.
Carice van Houten is magnificent in a role which I expect she will always be remembered. She can switch from whimsy to intensity, and passion to despair, and still hold your attention through the whole journey. It's a long journey too, about 2 and a half hours. And yet, the action, plot twists, and crucially the characters, keep you engaged throughout. Scratch that - not just engaged - on the edge of your seat. If there is a downside, it is that as so often with Paul Verhoeven's US output, with all the bright colours, frequent nudity and non stop action, we are almost voyeurs of the occupation, rather than growing to despise it.
The lush saturated colours and technical perfection are holdovers from the highly produced style Verhoeven perfected in America with Basic Instinct and Total Recall amongst others. And yet, while all the style and technical elements scream Hollywood, there is a European sensibility here when it comes to the story and characters. The characters are never ciphers but enter into real shades of grey. Sebastian Koch's Gestapo Chief Muentze is a delight - a Gestapo Chief who collects stamps, has a conscience.. and is perhaps even someone with whom the heroine can fall in love with.
There are underlying ideas here being explored - what would you be prepared to do? When is killing another person right.. is it still murder when it is the right thing to do? But rather than make this an issue movie which seriously and earnestly displays angst, this is an action romp with a compelling whodunit at its core.
This is therefore an exciting action thriller in Hollywood, style, but with some thought provoking ideas thrown in. Don't be put off by the foreign languages.. if you only see one Dutch movie this year, then this is the one!