The Last Vermeer is part arty and part mainstream, with familiar elements of both a post-WWII period drama and a courtroom drama. I liked it okay, but couldn’t help feeling like I’d seen it all before. I’d certainly seen the film’s lead actor, Claes Bang, immersed in the art world before – three months ago in The Burnt Orange Heresy, and in 2017’s Palme D’Or winner, The Square. Bang always does a bang-up job in these roles, but c’mon, there are many more worlds to explore!
The Last Vermeer is based on the 2008 book “The Man Who Made Vermeers” by Jonathan Lopez. It tells the true story of Han van Meegeren (Guy Pearce), a Dutch painter who made a name for himself not as an artist in his own right, but as one of the best and most ingenious forgers of all time. In the immediate aftermath of WWII, van Meegeren’s forgery skills almost got him executed, because he’d spent the better part of the war holding hedonistic soirees and selling Dutch art treasures to Hermann Goring and other top Nazis. Or so it appeared.
The story unfolds primarily through the lens of Joseph Piller (Bang), a Dutch Jew who was a resistance fighter during the war, and an investigator soon thereafter. He was tasked with identifying and redistributing stolen art, including an alleged Vermeer titled “Christ with the Woman Taken in Adultery”. As evidence piles up against van Meegeren, Piller and his assistant (Vicky Krieps) share doubts about van Meegeren’s guilt and devise a plan to prove his innocence in court.
The Last Vermeer is a (very) soft ‘R-rated’ drama that vacillates between engaging and dry, rescued periodically by Roland Moller in a supporting role as Piller’s favorite muscle man, Esper Vesser. The cast is good. Their performances are good. The movie is so-so. If you read/liked the book and/or a fan of art history, then The Last Vermeer may offer some appeal, though it’s probably worth waiting for a streaming or VOD option. It opens in theaters November 20.