Black Book is a film of convenience; whether it’s a negative to further the plot or a simple positive like there being a nonsensical chute to allow easy entry into a basement, the film keeps oiling its gears. It’s not predictable—in fact, it hinges on being unpredictable (Black Book owes a lot to the heist genre)—but it is smooth. It’s so smooth, it doesn’t feel much like a Paul Verhoeven film. But maybe that lack of identity was his point. He wanted to show he was capable of being a journeyman.
Part of that journeyman approach is shooting the film in Panavision, but framing his shots for TV. Black Book would have played great as a three or four part television mini-series. While the film eventually turns into a conspiracy thriller (one or two questions go unanswered), some back story on the non-suspect characters would have been great.
Verhoeven has bookends, making Book another member of this odd new Holocaust genre. He sets up the film as an object of great importance and it isn’t. It’s a mildly boring, competent World War II thriller with some decent surprises and great performances. The surprises aren’t just narrative twists; Verhoeven makes some great observations about the winners of wars being no better than the losers.
Carice van Houten is a good lead, not great. Sebastian Koch is excellent as her lover; costars Thom Hoffman and Derek de Lint have their moments too.
It’s okay, just way too long.
Directed by Paul Verhoeven; screenplay by Gerard Soeteman and Verhoeven, based on a story by Soeteman; director of photography, Karl Walter Lindenlaub; edited by Job ter Burg and James Herbert; music by Anne Dudley; production designer, Wilbert Van Dorp; produced by Jeroen Beker, Teun Hilte, San Fu Maltha, Jens Meurer, Jos van der Linden and Frans van Gestel; released by A-Film Distribution.
Starring Carice van Houten (Rachel Stein), Sebastian Koch (Ludwig Müntze), Thom Hoffman (Hans Akkermans), Halina Reijn (Ronnie), Waldemar Kobus (Günther Franken) and Derek de Lint (Gerben Kuipers).