The Last Vermeer
Starring Guy Pearce, Claes Bang, Vicky Krieps, Roland Møller, August Diehl, Olivia Grant, Susannah Doyle, and Adrian Scarborough
Written by John Orloff, Mark Fergus, and Hawk Ostby
Directed by Dan Friedkin
Rated: 14A for coarse language, nudity, substance use, and violence
Runtime: 117 minutes
Now available on Digital Video on Demand and DVD
Any time a movie features Nazis getting taken for chumps is a good movie in my book. Nazis killed more than six million people during the attempted genocide of the Holocaust but they also stole many pieces of art and cultural artifacts from the Jews. Getting those great works back has been the subject of other movies, including the very good Woman in Gold and the awful and entirely avoidable The Monuments Men.
The based on the true story of Dutch painter Han van Meegeren (Guy Pearce) is a new one to me. The artist was widely considered the most successful art forger of all time and he earned that acclaim by creating and selling forgeries of Johannes Vermeer paintings to the Nazis, swindling millions of dollars from them and depleting their war chest. You know Vermeer, ja? The Dutch Baroque artist reportedly worked diligently, slowly, and carefully, frequently using very expensive pigments and un technique fantastique. He is particularly renowned for his masterly treatment and use of light in his work. Well done, Johannes.
Furthermore, well done, Han. Who is the more talented: the incredible artist or the impeccable faker? What if the impeccable faker was on trial up against Nazis?
The Last Vermeer is based on Jonathan Lopez’s non-fiction book set in post-Second World War Amsterdam when van Meegeren is taken to trial for being a Nazi collaborator. No one believes that the second-rate artist (who couldn’t even sell a work with his own name on it) could succeed so easily on such an elaborate ruse to fool Nazis and art experts alike.
Watch this if you don't believe me: youtu.be/-0FU8z_1Arc.
This movie itself succeeds on many levels, not the least of which is in casting the kinetic and perpetually watchable Guy Pearce in the lead with strong support from the resolute Joseph Piller (Claes Bang of Ruben Östlund's 2017 Palme d'Or winner The Square). Piller is a Dutch Jew tasked with identifying and redistributing stolen art. As a lawyer, he must defend van Meegeren against the charge, practically an insurmountable task considering the magnitude of the deception his client has perpetuated. It is the perfect con and it runs at van Meegeren’s ultimate peril. I would watch Guy Pearce walk an old dog for five blocks. I would watch him hand feed that dog and sing it a dog lullaby at night.
The film has all the best attributes of art history, brilliant deception against heinous villains and a tricky legal battle all rolled into one, coupled with some great actors who I've already mentioned. It’s beautiful and well worth the watch and then some. It has some great art in it, plus the lush cinematography during the scenes of the beautiful canal-lined streets of old Amsterdam are par excellence. It's a work of beauty for certain, one that will also warm your soul.