Review: The Last Vermeer
The Last Vermeer tells the true tale of Dutch artist Han van Meegeren, who had dealings with Nazis during the war and was prosecuted after the liberation of Holland. It manages to tell a fresh tale from World War II, which honestly seems like a miracle. While the film starts off slow, it's second half is riveting.
Guy Pierce shines as van Meegeren. The role allows him to be flamboyant in the best ways. He is magnetic in the role. Although, at times he is not the main character of his own tale. First-time director Dan Friedkin puts a Dutch officer, Joseph Piller, as the film's lead. Played by Claes Bang, Piller is charged with finding and prosecuting war criminals early on in the film. He targets van Meegeren, a mysterious art dealer who is also an incredibly talented artist. During the war, van Meegeren sold a sought after Vermeer painting to a Nazi officer for an incredible amount of money. Vermeer only painted about 30 paintings during his life. Each one is incredibly valuable. He is a Dutch national hero so it is easy to understand why his works would want to be out of Nazi hands.
Piller quickly suspects there is more going on here. He develops a complicated relationship with van Meegeren to try to get to the bottom of what really happened. His suspicions prove valid when it is revealed van Meegeren sold a forgery and swindled the Nazis out of a small fortune.
The screenplay by James McGee, Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby runs into problems early on. The film wants to be a mystery with some courtroom drama thrown in. However, to get there several characters have to be introduced in the first act. Too many in fact and the film gets muddied early on. Once Piller learns of van Meegeren's sly actions, the film hits its stride. Underdeveloped characters fall by the wayside and the two leads are allowed to shine. One unfortunate casualty is Vicky Krieps who gets completely lost in the film.
Despite its rough start, The Last Vermeer becomes an enjoyable and engaging film. The production design is top-notch here, taking us into a post-war Holland convincingly. Pearce steals every scene he is in and is a joy to watch. The climactic courtroom scene hits all the right notes for a satisfying ending.