Based on the Jonathan Lopez book, ‘The Man Who Made Vermeers,’ this film is set in Holland just after World War II, where a man named Han van Meegeren, played by Guy Pearce, is being hunted down as a person who significantly profited off of the war at the expense of the Dutch people.
Captain Joseph Piller, a Dutch resistance member, is now an investigator in his beloved country of Holland. Piller, who’s played by Danish actor and musician Claes Bang, is given the task of finding not only van Meegeren but any person who sold priceless works of art, considered to be Dutch cultural treasures, to Hitler’s Reich during the war to enrich themselves.
Once prosecuted, the favored method of disposing of these traitors is execution in the streets by firing squad. Based on the amount of money van Meegeren made selling the cherished and priceless paintings of the renowned artist Johannes Vermeer, the Ministry is convinced van Meegeren is guilty and deserves the harshest punishment. It’s up to Piller to prove his innocence, a job he takes very seriously.
When it’s found in a Nazi bunker, one painting, in particular, is of great interest. It’s a Vanmeer called ‘Christ and the Adulteress.’ The sale is then traced to van Meegeren. Through this, the Ministry is convinced he’s guilty of being a Nazi conspirator. Once all of this information is bandied about, and all the evidence is laid out before you, the story of who van Meegeren really is begins to unfold. Director Dan Friedkin, whose involved in movies such as ‘All the Money in the World,’ ‘The Mule,’ ‘Dunkirk,’ and making his directing debut here, demonstrates his passion for great storytelling.
To keep him safe, Piller hides van Meegeren away. They begin to talk and get to know one another. To prove his innocence, van Meegeren asks for his paint supplies, which are provided for him. He begins to paint. This painting is of great importance later in the story, but I’ll do you a favor and not tell you why.
Adoringly hammered almost throughout the entire narrative, Pearce plays van Meegeren as an eccentric and unique heart. You feel for him as you find out how he was torn apart by the critics. He was too vulgar for them, and their polished palate, and, for him, it was over almost as quickly as it had begun.
Van Meegeren tells Piller how ugly the art world can be beneath all of the glitz and glamour. He says to Piller that he’s not investigating art but rather ‘money and power.’ He adds that when an expert critic declares that a piece is essential and the artist necessary, a legend is then born from that proclamation. The words of an art critic are taken very seriously. Wealthy people see that they can collect an item and suddenly be seen as sophisticated and refined. Museums want them displayed in their buildings to have what others covet and, of course, increase the price of admission.
The second half of the film is mostly set in the courtroom, where we find out whether van Meegeren is found guilty or not. We also discover some fascinating authenticity about this tale. This dramatic ending is offered with a few twists I believe you’ll enjoy. If you have never heard of this man, all the better. In the end, everything is laid out for you, complete with visuals. I can’t say much more, or it’ll spoil things for you, but Van Meegeren believed fascists deserved to be fleeced, and he helped with that whenever possible. That’s key, so keep that in mind. Dan Friedkin can be proud of his first film. Also, it’s time we see more of Guy Pearce, and in this historically influential movie, it gives him that much more merit. Hollywood! We need more Guy, please!
The Last Vermeer
Director: Dan Friedkin
Writers: John Orloff, as ‘James McGee,’ Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby
*Based on the book “The Man Who Made Vermeers” by Jonathan Lopez
Stars: Guy Pearce, Claes Bang, Vicky Krieps, Roland Møller, August Diehl, Olivia Grant, Adrian Scarborough, Andrew Havill and Karl Johnson
Running Time: 1h 57m