The best film of 2007 so far, Paul Verhoeven's elegant and unsentimental Black Book is a sweeping war epic heavily colored by the director's keen eye for cruelty and his shoulder-shrug attitude over the depths to which human beings can sink, but also steeped in influences as far flung as Garbo's Mata Hari and the breezy, fraternal war movies of John Sturges. Following a Jewish girl on the run in Nazi-occupied Holland, the film bounds with relentless verve from one set piece to the next, as Rachel Steinn (Carice van Houten, find of the decade) loses her family in one terrible flash and turns to the only people who will shelter her -- grizzled resistance fighters playing kill-for-kill games with the Nazis. Offered Aryan papers and a modicum of security, Steinn rejects them in favor of a more brazen kind of double-life, becoming a covert resistance fighter herself, putting her life on the wire on the slim chance that she may be able to throw a wrinkle into the plans of the piggish German high command.
While living life on the hoof and relying heavily on her striking looks to get the benefit of the doubt when its needed, events and quick thinking conspire to lead Steinn into the bed of a high-ranking Nazi, Muntze (Sebastian Koch) where the two play 'are you really friend or foe?' at night, while continuing about their separate missions during the day. Untypical for Verhoeven is the degree of tenderness and unclouded emotion that seep through during some of the scenes between van Houten and Koch, as their respective secret identities -- she as a fighting Jew, he as being possibly sympathetic to fighting Jews -- begin to melt away. Much hay will be made over a few shots devoted to van Houten's character deracinating her Jewish identity by painting her pubic hair blonde to match a bottled Harlow coiffure, but with all the attention Verhoeven lavishes on the actress's visage throughout the film and the justice he does her character and her story, I'm in the camp that says we should probably just allow an aging master his directorial Viagra.