There are A LOT of World War II movies. One seems to come out every Oscar season. However, the rebuilding that came after the war is rarely focused on. In Tristar Pictures’ The Last Vermeer, the aftermath of war is examined through the true story of Han van Meegeren, a Dutch painter and opportunist, who might be the greatest forger the world has ever known.
Based on Jonathan Lopez’s 2008 biography The Man Who Made Vermeers, the film opens with the discovery of a lost Vermeer painting. Assigned to discovering its origins is Captain Joseph Piller (Claes Bang, The Burnt Orange Heresy) of the Canadian Army. The investigation leads them to art dealer and former painter, Han van Meegeren (Guy Pearce, Momento), a man with complicated Nazi ties. As the suspicions rise that he might be a Nazi himself and helped fund Hitler’s regime, Piller must put his personal feelings aside and realize the sacrifices one must make to survive.
The first 60% of the film functions as a post-war mystery while the last part works as a courtroom drama. It’s the latter portion of the film that works the best. Void of the relationship drama that weighs down the first half, the trial scenes are the most cohesive in the film. Well-written, well-paced, and high drama, the end culminates into an explosive finale.
However, getting to that final act is slow going. Plot details are easily missed and seem to come out of nowhere for convenience. Piller’s personal life often detracts from the film’s momentum. The Last Vermeer nods to the period blockbusters of ten years ago without breaking new ground. Told mainly from Piller’s perspective, the plot doesn’t spend enough time on its hidden jewel, Guy Pearce’s performance.
While Claes Bang’s gentle characterization guides the film, Pearce’s quick-witted Van Meegeren steals the show. With white slicked back hair and pencil-thin eyebrows, Pearce has complete control over the performance. A bit of Kenneth Branagh as Hercules Perot and a little bit of Johnny Depp in every film role he’s ever been in the last five years, Pearce’s grounds his performance in reality, flirting with a cartoonish characterization but never indulging in it.
Charismatic and charming, Pearce seems to save The Last Vermeer from mediocre oblivion. And while the film brings up some murky points about conforming to fascist regimes in order to survive, The Last Vermeer makes an art film seem exciting.
You can watch The Last Vermeer in select theaters now. Watch the trailer below.