Not long after the end of World War II, the provisional government in Holland was seeking out Nazi conspirators and one area they were targeting were those involved in the looting of Dutch priceless works of art and the recovery of a painting believed to be one of the missing works of Johannes Vermeer leads an officer named Captain Joseph Piller to a Dutch socialite and art dealer named Hans van Meergren. As Piller meets with van Meergren he begins to suspect that he stole the last Vermeer painting and sold it to the Nazis. However, as Piller and his associate Esper Dekker spend more time with Meergren questions begin to arise regarding what van Meergren’s actual role is.
I have always had a fascination with films that deal with World War II, especially those that take place after the war. It is documented that many priceless pieces of art had been stolen in some fashion by the Nazis so to have a chance to watch a film that dealt with this subject was something that I very much wanted to see.
The story starts rather slowly, but the pace picked up rapidly as the film progressed and as the mysteries surrounding van Meergren and the Vermeer paintings surfaced. From a tonal point of view, The Last Vermeer does a good job of portraying the horrors of that war without dwelling too deeply such as Schindler’s List. Instead, we are seeing people trying to rebuild their lives after the death and destruction devastated much of their country. A very simple scene had Piller on a train to meet with another art dealer and the camera showed only destroyed buildings with homeless survivors. There was nothing disgusting or gratuitous in the scene. Just the devastation while the point of view focused on one girl standing all alone staring back at Piller as the train slowly passed by. The scene was artistic in portraying the emotional harshness of this time. Much of the movie was filmed in Holland giving an oddly beautiful realism. In addition to this intelligent perspective of the post-war period, the art world was explored in a way that gave it a sense of authenticity but in a way that didn’t leave me feeling out of my depth. Director Dan Friedkin in his directorial debut, utilizing the screenplay by James McGee, Mark Fergus, and Hawk Ostby, found a perfect balance in using the cinematography along with the story to deliver a thrilling film.
As for the cast, most of them were more than competent in their roles, especially that of Claes Bang as Piller. Bang gave his character a portrayal that moved between obsessed and haunted as we learn that Piller had been a pianist in years past, but for his own reasons stopped playing, possibly when he learned that he could never be as good as the masters he idolized. His tortured soul gives fuel to his determination in learning everything there is about van Meergren. Then there is Guy Pearce as van Meergren. While Bang gets more screen time than Pearce, it was Pearce’s performance that dazzled the film. Hans van Meergren was described as a narcissist as well as a brilliant art dealer, and whenever Pearce was on the screen I believed I was looking at van Meergren. This art dealer during the war was the toast of Holland. Everyone wanted to be around him and his parties always invited people from all over because of his sheer magnetism. Pearce managed to bring that quality of van Meergren to life and regardless of the scene, whether it be in van Meergren’s home, his prison, or even in a courtroom, Pearce was undeniably brilliant. I simply could not take my eyes off of him. Pearce’s performance commanded each scene in this film. After watching this I came to realize that there is probably not a single role that Pearce could take on and be anything but amazing.
For a film about the post-war art world, I did not expect the final scenes to become this enthralling. It also delivered a magnificent message about how one perceives any creative work. Can any work of art, be it music, sculpture, or painting, only be appreciated if it is created by a known master, or can it be appreciated simply because of what it is regardless of who created it?
The Last Vermeer is a genuine piece of art in the world of filmmaking. The story was exciting, the cinematography was beautiful, the subject matter was enlightening, and the performances were dazzling.
I give The Last Vermeer 5 out of 5 brush strokes!
The Last Vermeer opens in theaters on November 17, 2020.