The Last Vermeer

Opening in theaters Friday November 20.

The Plot:

May 29, 1945, three weeks after the fall of the Third Reich, Captain Joseph Piller (Claes Bang) is tasked with locating collaborators who profited through Nazi art sales. When the Allies discover Reischmarshal Herman Göring’s hidden art treasure trove, they find an undiscovered Johannes Vermeer painting along with a bill of sale.

Linking it to Dutch art dealer and painter Han Van Meegeren (Guy Pearce), Piller begins investigating Van Meegeren and his dealings with the Nazi’s. However, Dutch authorities swoop in to take Van Meegeren and imprison him, setting him up for a speedy trial and execution.

As Piller struggles with his personal post-war problems, he tries to unravel Van Meegeren’s story to discover if he is guilty or innocent. Piller, a Jew, must now fight for the life of an opportunist who has profited from wartime plunders – justice can sometimes hide within darkness.

Kent's Take:

“The Last Vermeer” is a riveting wartime journey through a broken world. Based on the true story of Dutch painter Han Van Meegeren and his wartime exploits with the Nazis, this tale of deceit and truth is one for the ages.

Mixing the history of Johannes Vermeer paintings with very personal stories of the characters, this drama holds a powerful emotional punch.

The backdrop of a shattered world, three weeks after WWII has ended, frames a city scrambling for food rations, explanations for the Nazi atrocities and justice for collaborators – but truth is often difficult to find due to the fog of war.

There are two villains in this story – the Nazis who have just finished perpetrating the worst genocide in history and the profiteers who made money off of the war, usually at the expense or victimization of the innocent.

Van Meegeren was an art dealer who sold precious works to the Nazis, yet Piller realizes that things may not be as they seem. The flamboyant, wealthy and admittedly charming Van Meegeren may be exactly what he appears to be, but there is more to his story. It’s that additional information that provides the memorable twist in this true story.

Piller begins his investigation self-assured that he has caught a profiteer, but as the clues lead him in the direction of the truth, he finds himself in a different role – one of advocate.

Director Dan Friedkin captures the give and take of emotional stagnation brought on by the traumas of war. He captures the malaise and anger and wraps this up in an emotional story of deceit and lies. Friedkin also captures the dueling environments of utter destruction outside and the beautifully appointed interiors of those who avoided much of the suffering in the war.

Each character looks for answers to their personal questions – a simple truth, and more importantly – hope for a better future. Bang is a perfect Piller, a Jew looking for justice, (or is it revenge?) and finding it in a very different place and way. Guy Pearce elevates this film. His Han Van Meegeren is both loathsome and likeable, pompous and charming and true to his nature. Couple that with his love for art and an added pinch of nationalism and these elements help save his life. Pearce’s performance is Oscar-worthy.

“The Last Vermeer” is a worthy film contrasting man’s destructive compunctions vs. mankind’s artistic nature, as one man’s search for justice becomes another man’s path toward survival.

Lynn's Take:

War criminal or war hero? Man of mystery Han van Meegeren became a man of infamy after World War II. But his true story has been mostly forgotten until “The Last Vermeer,” which recounts this notorious case in a melodramatic and twisty narrative.

The time is 1945 and the place is Holland. The found painting is “Christ and the Adulteress” by Dutch Master Johannes Vermeer of the 17th century baroque period.

The procedural screenplay, written by Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby, is based on an adaptation of Jonathan Lopez's, "The Man Who Made Vermeers," and gets considerable mileage from Guy Pearce as the flamboyant van Meegeren.

The role gives theAustralian actor plenty of scenery to chew, for the art dealer was a smooth operator. After the Germans occupied the Netherlands, he threw lavish parties and showed no signs of a moral compass. 

Pearce, who disappears into every role he’s in, from “L.A. Confidential” and “Memento” to “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” and “Iron Man 3,” digs in and is quite saucy about the secrets he’s hiding.  

All that hedonism rubs stoic soldier Joseph Piller the wrong way, although he’s not above resorting to shenanigans to keep the government stooges out of his way. As colorful as van Meegeren is, Piller is lacking in flavor. Bang, so good in “The Square” and “The Burnt Orange Heresy,” both movies dealing with art, is rather dull and stiff here.

The women characters are underserved and the supporting cast plays standard characters all in service to the story, which leads us to a climactic court scene full of fireworks. Van Meegeren’s argument is that he defrauded the Nazis, no collaboration.

The movie’s a tad clumsy under the first-time direction by Dan Friedkin but redeems itself in the final third. 

With “The Last Vermeer,” there seems to be an endless stream of World War II characters whose story is enough to build a film around, like “Resistance” earlier this year.

The film’s courtroom drama outshines its thriller elements. It serves a purpose as both a history lesson and an art tutorial.