LAST VERMEER, THE
(director/writer: Dan Friedkin; screenwriter: based on the book “The Man Who Made Vermeers” by Jonathan Lopez/James McGee/Hawk Ostby; cinematographer: Remi Adefarasin; editor: Victoria Boydell; music: Johan Söderqvist; cast: Guy Pearce (Han Van Meegeren), Claes Bang (Captain Joseph Piller), Vicky Krieps (Minna Holmberg), Roland Møller (Esper Dekker), August Diehl (Alex De Klerks), Richard Dillane (Colonel Jenkins), Tom Mulheron (Finn), Olivia Grant (Cootje Henning), Andrew Havill (Maarten Wooning), Adrian Scarborough (Dirk Hannema), Marie Bach Hansen (Piller’s wife), Karl Johnson (Bernard Bakker), Paul Bentall (Chief Judge); Runtime: 117; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Danny Friedkin, Ryan Friedkin; A Sony TriStar release; 2019)
“It plays as if it was a conventional mystery picture.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
First-time feature film director Dan Friedkin, a former producer and stuntman (his father, Thomas, is a respected stunt pilot), helms this bizarre true history tale about the Dutch art forger Han van Meegeren (Guy Pearce), the most successful art forger ever, and his dealings with the Nazi elites during the World War II occupation of the Netherlands. It included how the slippery dandy swindled Hermann Göring into paying a fortune for a fake Vermeer (an esteemed 17th century Dutch painter). Unfortunately it plays as if it was a conventional mystery picture. It’s based on the 2008 nonfiction book “The Man Who Made Vermeers” by Jonathan Lopez, and is blandly co-written by Friedkin, James McGee and Hawk Ostby.
Captain Joseph Piller (Claes Bang, Danish actor) is a “Dutch Jew in a Canadian officer’s uniform,” who is a former tailor and jazz fan turned resistance fighter. After World War II he works with the Canadian army to investigate for the Allied Forces collaborators and paintings obtained illegally by the Nazis. The aim is to return the stolen paintings to their proper owners and arrest the guilty parties. Meanwhile the justice-seeking Amsterdam officials were mainly looking for collaborators to execute by firing squads.
The film opens with the discovery of the “Jesus and the Adulteress,” an unknown Vermeer painting that is traced to Hermann Göring.
Piller’s investigation takes place in Amsterdam, where he finds that the failed Dutch artist Han van Meegeren (Guy Pearce), an egomaniac, seems to be a collaborator, and Pillers believes the aging, wealthy, hedonistic high-living artist is probably guilty of some crime but not the one the local lawmen think. To learn more about him Piller makes a deal with him to keep him out of prison after his arrest if he agrees to talk to him about his crimes while his office thoroughly investigates him.
Piller’s staff includes his loyal secretary Minna (Vicky Krieps), his right-hand man Espen (Roland Møller) and his old-timer defense lawyer Bernard Bakker (Karl Johnson). But the local Dutch authorities led by the smarmy Alex De Klerks (August Diehl), Piller’s rival from the civilian Justice Department, charge him in 1945 with minor charges that would give him little jail time. Piller’s team are also confronted by the competent prosecutor (Andrew Havill) and the Dutch art establishment represented by the arrogant museum director and self-proclaimed Vermeer expert (Adrian Scarborough), who proclaims that Göring’s painting is definitely a genuine Vermeer.
Piller pursues his investigation (viewed through flasbacks) despite his marriage turning sour because of his wife (Marie Bach Hansen) being viewed with German soldiers to raise money for the resistance during the occupation displeases him.
When it turns in the third act into a courtroom drama, it shows that van Meegeren is a master forger, the crime which he eventually goes to trial for, and he becomes a Dutch national hero rather than viewed as a collaborator for swindling the Nazis.
Great performances by Pearce and Bang elevate this unexceptional art forgery film to an enjoyable one.
REVIEWED ON 11/23/2020 GRADE: B-