Black Book & r & & r & by TED S. McGREGOR JR. & r & & r & In America, we've enjoyed Paul Verhoeven's popcorn films like Robocop and Basic Instinct (and we've even mocked him for Showgirls), but back home in the Netherlands, he's a cultural treasure. So it was a homecoming project when he released Zwartboek (Black Book) in 2006 -- his first Dutch production since 1980. And its subject -- the Dutch resistance to Nazi rule -- is a favorite. After all, he lived it; Verhoeven grew up near The Hague, and his village was bombed during the war. The Dutch resistance was also the subject of the film that first got him noticed by Hollywood back in 1977, Soldier of Orange.
With a brief release around last Christmas, Black Book kind of got lost in the holiday film shuffle, and that was a shame, as it became the most successful film in Dutch history. Set at the end of World War II, with the Allies' advance coming fast, the story follows Rachel (Carice van Houten), a young Jewish woman waiting out the war hiding on a farm. When a stray bomb blows her cover, her journey of sorrow and betrayal begins.
A hasty getaway goes horribly wrong, so Rachel changes her identity (new name, Ellis; new hair color, blonde). She joins the resistance alongside the charismatic Hans. A singer in Berlin before the war, Ellis knows how to use her charms (which are on full display throughout the film) to her advantage and seduces a prominent Nazi. Once undercover in the halls of power, she begins to unravel the mystery of who is betraying her people -- both the hidden Jews of The Hague and the resistance fighters.
Black Book is so engrossing -- shot so beautifully, acted so well, with such exciting action sequences and plot twists -- you don't even notice you're reading subtitles. But what makes it something rare is that it combines historical truth with Hollywood polish. That makes the film a tad melodramatic at times, and fantastical in the way action films generally are, but it's an entertaining brew, handled deftly by a filmmaker who deserves to be appreciated. (Rated R)