Black Book
Even adults get scared of the monsters under their bed every now and then.

Theatrical Release Date: 09/14/2006 (Netherlands), 04/04/2007 (USA)
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Cast: Carice van Houten, Sebastian Koch, Waldemar Kobus, Derek de Lint, Dolf de Vries

Like my Granpappy always said to me, “If there’s one thing I always look forward to, it’s a WWII film!” Wait, no … he always said, “Get off my lawn, you punk whipper snappers!” and the one thing I always look forward to is prescription medicine.

My own future senility aside, I’m like most people who think the flood of WWII films seems never ending and I wonder when people will have exhausted every last drop from that well.

However, what can be so frustrating about wanting the genre to take a break is that there are still wonderfully compelling stories to be told.

That’s the case with “Black Book”, Holland’s official entry into the 2006 Academy Awards.

For those who don’t know, the Academy makes a short list of 9 foreign films and then narrows that down to the final five we all see that fateful Sunday.

Well, “Black Book” made the top 9 but just couldn’t squeeze into the final round.

Maybe that was due to some of director Paul Verhoeven’s previous work (*cough* “Showgirls”!) but having seen some of the others, I think the Academy got it wrong (again).

“Black Book” revolves around a Jewish woman who joins the Dutch resistance movement and infiltrates the German regime by shacking herself up with a high-ranking Nazi officer.

The woman is played gorgeously by Carice van Houten, displaying just the right mix of vulnerability and righteous conviction. Over the course of the film, her character develops much like a rose, sprouting thorns to protect itself.

What once was little more than someone fleeing Nazi persecution becomes a crusader to strike back at the Germans responsible for the death of her family.

However, that’s not to say her character is essentially the Dutch version of “The Punisher”. (Though I’d love to see Verhoeven’s take on that.)

No, van Houten doesn’t see the world around her in black and white, there are many shades of gray and it is that ability that turns this film into something a bit more than ordinary, that allows for a smidgen of complexity in an oft-tread subject.

The production value on the film is decent. I have heard the film cost somewhere around $25 million U.S. dollars – making it one of, if not the, most expensive Dutch films ever.

However, that money isn’t all spent on tank battles and bombs. It’s on creating a believable historical accuracy akin to HBO’s “Band of Brothers” mini-series (which everyone should see at some point).

The cast overall is excellent – exemplified not only by van Houten but also with Sebastian Koch, who some of you may recognize as playing the subject of East German secret police scrutiny in “The Lives of Others”.

Koch plays the German officer that van Houten uses to gain intelligence on the Nazis for the resistance. His character, much like hers, is not a simple by-the-book character and is another example of how Verhoeven tried to emphasize a central theme of the film: humanity.

At multiple points throughout the film, the very civilized nature of our humanity is put on display. Whether it’s Nazi oppression or the Dutch response to that once the war is over, each side commits heinous acts in the name of their cause and that creates a wonderful discussion point about what separates the two.

As individuals, each of us decides how to treat other people and how to respond to those who have stepped outside of cultural norms. As Dostoevsky said, “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.”

When we react to an atrocity in kind, what kind of statement are we making about ourselves?

That’s probably a discussion best left to another person as I’d prefer to make a joke about Kirsten Dunst but I think you get the point.

“Black Book” is an excellent film, exceeding the basic thriller genre to which Verhoeven is generally linked, and as such it receives a 4 out of 5.

I realize that many of you might not be in the mood for another story from WWII but if you find yourselves at the theater, “Hot Fuzz” is sold out, and everything else seems asinine – this is worth your time and money.