Guy Pearce is brilliantly cunning and quirky as a Dutch art dealer suspected of being a Nazi collaborator. The last Vermeer tells the incredible true story of Han van Meegeren. Van Meegeren, a flamboyant narcissist who made a fortune in World War II, was quickly caught up in the Allied hunt for stolen artwork. Based on the true crime biography of Jonathan Lopez, The last Vermeer is a well played and produced dramatic mystery. It drags on a bit in the second act, but recovers due to its lead performances.
The last Vermeer opens in the Netherlands a few weeks after Hitler’s defeat. A wagon of Nazi Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring is found with a previously unknown painting by the Dutch master “Christ and the Adulteress”. Captain Joseph Piller (Claes Bang), a Dutch Jew who fought in the resistance, is supposed to find out who sold the painting and bring that person to justice. Aid to the Germans was a death penalty punishable by death. The Dutch executed their treacherous compatriots by public firing squads.
Captain Piller and his loyal executor Dekker (Roland Møller) shake off nervous elites until they are led to the gallery by Han van Meegeren (Guy Pearce). He submits to their questioning with an almost cheerful face. Piller’s anger at van Meegeren’s hedonistic lifestyle, pomposity, and Nazi socialization is allayed as his investigation deepens. While the newly installed Dutch government wants to set an example for van Meegeren, Piller’s assistant (Vicky Krieps) makes a surprising discovery. The true scope of van Meegeren’s exploits would shake the art world to the core.
The last Vermeer begins as a moral game with Piller, who tries to correct the injustices of his people and his country. His anger and pursuit of vengeance are tarnished as the pieces do not fit as expected. Piller’s dealings with van Meegeren compel him to examine his personal life. War is hell. People do what it takes to survive. Han van Meegeren used the war to get rich. But was he complicit in empowering the Nazis or in using them for ulterior motives? The film answers this question in an entertaining climax.
The last Vermeer is the directorial debut of billionaire, businessman, stunt pilot and film producer Dan Friedkin (All the money in the world, The mule). He does an amazing job on his first lap behind the camera. The last Vermeer has high production value at every level. The sets, costumes and production design are very good. The film has an intimate look and feel, but shows the devastating effects of the war. He’s also smart enough to give his veteran leeway. Claes Bang plays the straight man while Guy Pearce chews the screen with devilish gusto. They manage to vary the mood of the plot. It’s rare for a movie on this theme to be tense and weird at the same time.
The tempo slows down in the second act as The last Vermeer pans to a courtroom. It’s a moderate pause, but enough to lose the narrative vapor. I think Friedkin wanted to give Piller’s character the same time for historical context. It’s fair game but Van Meegeren is too interesting to deviate from. Do yourself a favor and cold watch this movie. I had never heard of Han van Meegeren and was really surprised by his story. The last Vermeer is a production by Imperative Entertainment and NL Film. It will be released in theaters on November 20th by Sony Pictures in the US.
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