Based on a true story, Dan Friedkin’s ‘The Last Vermeer’ focuses on the flamboyant Han van Meegeren (Guy Pearce) who is a dashing Dutch art forger that teams up with Captain Joesph Piller (Claes Bang) to investigate Vermeer paintings that fell into Nazi hands following World War ll. The film is an adaptation of a Van Meegeren biography titled ‘The Man Who Made Vermeers’ by Jonathan Lopez.
The film picks up three weeks after the fall of Hitler’s Reich on May 29, 1945, as Dutch soldiers discover ‘Christ and the Adulteress’ among Hermann Göring’s personal belongings, Hitler’s second in command. This was around the time that the Dutch military started jailing and executing people who were found corroborating with German Nazis. It is then that Piller is assigned to investigate Han van Meegren who is accused of selling art to the wealthy Nazis. As the story unfolds, van Meegren sends Piller on a wild goose chase to find the real seller of the painting, only to find out that it was Han van Meegeren all along. Van Meegeren was able to pull off one of the biggest art scams of the 20th century.
The film is a slow burn in the way that it introduces the characters and the muddled plot, somehow segueing into an unexpected courtroom drama that manages to redeem the film.
Despite the long-winded story, Pearce carries the film and is attention-demanding with every minute on-screen. It could be his unkempt grey hair or his eccentric eyebrows or perhaps even his indulgent attitude but he entertains more than anything. Vicky Krieps, most notable for her work as Alma Elson in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom’s Thread, plays Piller’s mousy assistant, Minna who entertains a relationship with Piller following her husband’s death.
The cinematography was definitely in their favour as they set Amsterdam as the backdrop for the majority of the film, distinctly recognizable with its cobblestone rustic buildings. The score was beautifully done — the melancholy instrumental added to the tensions and emotions portrayed in the film. Still, the screenplay written by James McGee, Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, and John Orlof felt a bit lackluster at times.
Friedkin picked a really strong story for his directorial debut that unfortunately falls a bit flat for casual viewing. However, if intricate historical dramas pique your interest, then ‘The Last Vermeer’ might be for you.
‘The Last Vermeer’ is now available on digital and DVD.