Six years after his Hollywood career did a disappearing act in Hollow Man, Paul Verhoeven re-emerges from his native Netherlands with the barnstorming Black Book. A World War II resistance thriller centred on a revenge-seeking Jewess (the sterling Carice van Houten) who falls for an SS officer. It's a twisty tale robustly told with lashings of sex and violence. Yes, despite the prestige-pic trappings, Verhoeven hasn't lost touch with his basic instincts; who else could bring us a scene of a woman dyeing her nether regions?
An eyebrow-raiser, true, but strictly in service to the plot, as heroine Rachel (van Houten) completes the blonde disguise that will allow her to infiltrate the local Gestapo HQ on behalf of the Dutch Resistance. On a personal mission to avenge her family's merciless murder, she becomes involved - at first duplicitously, then for real - with bigwig Ludwig (Sebastian Koch), who's that rarest of characters: a sympathetic Nazi. This shake-up of the usual war-movie rules also applies to the good guys, some of whom are as corrupt as the enemy.
"A MIDDLEBROW EFFORT"
Still, you'll root wholeheartedly for Rachel, a demanding role that Dutch starlet van Houten grabs with both hands. Defiant, resourceful and able to carry a tune, she's game for anything Verhoeven and his old writing partner Gerard Soeteman throw at her - including a large bucket of human waste. A layer of mainstream gloss takes the edge off this and other horrors, but the man behind Robocop marches through with a steely assurance that rarely allows you to snatch a breath.