Paul Verhoeven's Black Book is currently playing on nine big city screens, and slowly expanding to more in other parts of the country. It's a radical departure for Mr. Verhoeven. It's his first non-English film since The Fourth Man (1983), and it's his first non-exploitation film in decades. It deals directly with the Nazi persecution of the Jews and it runs 145 minutes. Clearly, he's trying to say something here. He wants us to know that, whether or not anyone liked Robocop (1987), Total Recall (1990) or Basic Instinct (1992), he never really took those films seriously.
Now, I don't think that's exactly true, but it's certainly the impression one can get. The truth is that while Black Book appears to be more important, dignified and serious than Verhoeven's other films, and while I like it very much, it actually has quite a bit less to say. Films from the lower regions can often get away with more subversive ideas than more prestigious films. For example, Black Book demonstrates once again how awful the Nazis were and how resourceful the Jews were, but Verhoeven's Starship Troopers (1997) sends a far more sinister message by forcing us into the perspective of the Nazi-like heroes as they try to exterminate an entire species of "bug." The film sweeps you up into a frightening mob mentality, so you cheer for death and destruction well before you realize what's actually happening.