Paul Verhoeven’s Black Book remains one of the best and most overlooked films of 2006—a rich, World War II espionage thriller with the edginess, flair and cinematic creativity of the best of Verhoeven’s earlier Dutch movies back in place after all those years in Hollywood. As a story, the film is of the blood-and-thunder variety, detailing the adventures of a young Jewish woman (Carice van Houten) who takes up with the Dutch resistance against the Nazis. Disguising herself as a proper Aryan chanteuse in order to get in with the Nazis, she finds herself facing betrayal on both sides.
More overlooked than the film is Carice van Houten in one of the few performances I can think of that I’d call truly fearless—and not just because she dyes her pubic hair (to make her more Aryan) on camera or allows herself to have gallons of sewage poured over her in a scene where she’s tortured in prison, but because there’s a sense of inner bravery to her portrayal. There’d almost have to be, since the film is the sort of affair that’s bound to generate a degree of controversy. Not only does it insist on functioning as a sexy thriller (we don’t do that anymore with stories involving WWII, it seems), but it also takes place in a world where all Nazis aren’t unsympathetic and all freedom fighters aren’t innately good. This is the sort of thing apt to draw some critical fire—and it did. It’s also the sort of thing that helps make Black Book worth seeing.