Dutch director Paul Verhoeven has always been an odd bird. Best known for his outlandish displays of giddy carnality doused with bucketloads of blood in such popcorn munchers as RoboCop, Starship Troopers and Basic Instinct, it’s easy for an audience to miss the underlying satirical streak that winds through his work. In the case of his nadir effort Showgirls, it wasn’t easy for anyone to catch what he was up to … perhaps he knew, but he never took the time to clue anyone else in.
But the old-school Verhoeven is back with what is easily his best work in years. While Black Book does have its sporadic doses of mayhem interspersed with that Eurotrash fascination with pushing the sexuality hot buttons, the film is still a very solid piece of filmmaking.
Black Book details the misadventures of a beautiful young Jewish singer trying to keep her head down (and attached) in the occupied Netherlands during the twilight of World War II. Familiar with betrayal, she eventually works with the Dutch resistance by becoming the lover of a young German officer. As far as monsters go, he’s a nice enough sort, and she ends up falling for him. And in the tradition of Grand Guignol melodrama at its finest, the scheisse really hits the fan.
While at times the twists and turns of the narrative beggar believability, Verhoeven oversees the proceedings with a bemused approach that imbues the ensuing car chases, explosions, death and absurdist mayhem with the glee of an intellectual 13-year-old, delivering with Hollywood entertainment that Hollywood itself would have absolutely no idea how to go about making on its own.