Release Date: November 20th, 2020
Cast: Guy Pearce, Claes Bang, Vicky Krieps, Roland Møller
Director: Dan Friedkin
Distributor: Sony Pictures Releasing
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The Last Vermeer begins shortly after WWII has come to a close (at least in Europe) as soldiers uncover a train car full of art. Among them, a Vermeer, previously unknown to anyone. This art, presumably stolen by the Nazis and their conspirators is now a crucial clue in cases of betrayal.
It is up to Captain Piller (Claes Bang) to track down who sold these works of cultural importance to the Nazis, and whether they were actively supporting the Reich. The path is a twisting one, taking him from an art dealer and disgraced artist, played ever charismatically by Guy Pearce, across the country investigating other Vermeers, and finally to the courtroom as he seeks the truth of the matter.
The Last Vermeer, based on a 2008 book by Jonathan Lopez (the title of which gives away a mid-movie twist), joins other films in the WW2 + art genre, like 2014’s The Monuments Men.
While Vermeer might not be as a blockbuster like The Monuments Men, it focuses more on a central mystery: a single painting, sold at the highest price of any piece of art, and the question of loyalty. The Nazis loved art; Hitler and his officers sought it out where ever they conquered, stealing cultural artifacts to send back home to Germany. That someone would willingly sell a Vermeer, the famous Dutch Baroque painter who lived 1632 – December 1675, well, isn’t that tantamount to treason?
The two leads of our film, Claes Bang and Guy Pearce both do a great job. Bang’s Piller is haggardness given human form. He was a captain in the war, now he’s assigned to a job he doesn’t particularly care for, and he wants nothing more than to be out of this life. His home life however is on rocks as his wife had to survive on her own in the war as a member of the resistance and what she may or may not have done haunts him. Satisfied neither in his post nor in love he throws himself headlong into the investigation against Pearce’s Han van Meegeren.
At the same time, a fellow allied branch attempts to take his perp and ruin the case. Quite the predicament, as you can see, and Bang reflects that well. Pearce meanwhile plays the perfect charming eccentric. A socialite who used to paint and now makes a living as an art dealer and hosting parties, he is affable to everyone — except Bang. Their friction drives the movie forward through its twists and turns.
At first, Vermeer has a strange pace to it, it feels as if it alternates between rushed and sluggish, diving perhaps too deep in some spots. Clocking in at just under 2 hours, it is by no means a short film and it feels as if there are two distinct movies smashed within: the initial investigation of Han van Meegeren, and then a second-hour of a court procedural. Both are intrinsically tied together, of course. You wouldn’t want the second half without the first, but it feels like each half has a scene or two extra within them that might be better spent elsewhere.
Perhaps this is a failing of your humble reviewer, as I am not accustomed to reviewing films on my laptop but, hey, 2020! All in all, it’s a fine film, especially for those interested in art, World War II, or a good courtroom procedural.
The Last Vermeer is in theaters and VOD on Friday, November 20th.