Guy Pearce is brilliantly cunning and whimsical as a Dutch art dealer suspected of being a Nazi collaborator. The Last Vermeer tells the incredible true story of Han van Meegeren. A flamboyant narcissist who made a fortune during World War II, van Meegeren was quickly swept up in the Allied hunt for stolen works of art. Based on the true crime biography by Jonathan Lopez, The Last Vermeer is a well-acted and produced dramatic mystery. It drags somewhat during the second act, but recovers on the strength of its lead performances.
The Last Vermeer opens in the Netherlands several weeks after Hitler’s defeat. A train car belonging to the 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 assigned to find who sold the painting and bring that person to justice. Aiding the Germans was a capital offense punishable by death. The Dutch were executing their treasonous countrymen by public firing squad.
Captain Piller and his loyal enforcer, Dekker (Roland Møller), shake down nervous elites until they are directed to the gallery of Han van Meegeren (Guy Pearce). He submits to their interrogation with an almost jovial countenance. Piller’s wrath at van Meegeren’s hedonistic lifestyle, pomposity, and Nazi socializing becomes tempered as his investigation deepens. While the newly reinstated Dutch government wants to make an example of van Meegeren, Piller’s assistant (Vicky Krieps) makes a startling discovery. The true scope of van Meegeren’s exploits would shake the art world to its core.
The Last Vermeer begins as a morality play with Piller seeking to right the wrongs done to his people and country. His anger and quest for vengeance is muddied as the pieces do not fit as expected. Piller’s dealings with van Meegeren forces him to examine his personal life. War is hell. People do whatever’s needed to survive. Han van Meegeren used the war to greatly enrich himself. But was he complicit in enabling the Nazis, or using them for ulterior motives? The film answers that question in an entertaining climax.
The Last Vermeer is the feature directorial debut of billionaire businessman, stunt pilot, and film producer Dan Friedkin (All the Money in the World, The Mule). He does an incredible job in his first turn behind the camera. The Last Vermeer has a high production value on every level. The sets, costumes, and production design are very good. The film has an intimate look and feeling, but shows the destructive aftermath of the war. He’s also smart enough to give his veteran leads latitude. Claes Bang plays the straight man while Guy Pearce chews up the screen with a devilish gusto. They succeed in varying the mood of the plot. It’s rare for a film with this subject matter to be tense and comical at the same time.
The pacing falters in the second act as The Last Vermeer pivots to a courtroom setting. It’s a moderate lull, but sufficient enough to lose narrative steam. I believe Friedkin wanted to give Piller’s character equal time for historical context. It’s fair play, but van Meegeren is too interesting to deviate from. Do yourself a favor and watch this film cold. I had never heard of Han van Meegeren and was truly surprised by his story. The Last Vermeer is a production of Imperative Entertainment and NL Film. It will be released theatrically by Sony Pictures in the United States on November 20th.
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