The Last Vermeer
Directed by: Dan Friedkin
Screenplay by: John Orloff, Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby, Based on ‘The Man Who Made Vermeers’ by Jonathan Lopez
Starring: Guy Pearce, Claes Bang, Vicky Krieps, Roland Møller, August Diehl, Olivia Grant
One might be inclined to think of Dan Friedkin’s “The Last Vermeer,” which opens in theaters this weekend, as a pale imitation of “The Thomas Crown Affair.”
Whether you choose to compare it to the classic 1968 film or its 1999 remake is up to you.
However, that’s not an entirely fair comparison. Based on the real-life story ‘The Man Who Made Vermeers’ by Jonathan Lopez, and adapted into a considerable script by John Orloff, Mark Fergus, and Hawk Ostby, one must understand the time in which the film is set to get a perspective on which the film is set.
Shortly after World War II ended in Europe, the Allied commands began to clean up the judicial and other legalities associated with the war; the repatriation of artwork, jewelry, and monies back to their rightful owners and it was determined that those who collaborated, or even gave the appearance of collaborating with the enemy, were gunned down in the town square, made to be an example of a government taking back control.
Captain Joseph Piller (Claes Bang) is assigned to investigate where Göring’s hidden art collection was sourced from, leading him to Han van Meergren, played by Guy Pearce.
What follows is an interesting blend of courtroom procedurals, a coincidental friendship, and someone who managed to become a man of the people ultimately – Han van Meergren was a folk hero to the Dutch at the time of his death. Don’t worry; I didn’t spoil the film’s outcome – simple research on Han van Meergren tells us of his legacy.
The challenge with “The Last Vermeer” is that Guy Pearce, who channels his inner Johnny Depp, becomes far too cloying in his animated performance as the illustrious artist. I grant you that his performance is also key to unfolding the story as a courtroom and political dynamo.
Claes Bang’s performance as Captain Joseph Piller is dramatically taut as a man trapped between being a military officer, supporting a fractured family, and trying to understand why Han van Meergren is someone worthy of protection from the Dutch government, namely Alex De Klerks (August Diehl, “A Hidden Life”).
The story forms its foundation on trust, a foreign concept in a time and place during which trust is not easily earned or given. For Piller, even more so. It isn’t until Piller becomes a civilian and is recalled to pick up his investigation trail where the film becomes more interesting.
“The Last Vermeer” works because of its supporting characters; those whose faith in other humans have been shattered and now need to be restored. The film’s theme, discovering the truth, judicially and personally, does have its place in today’s society. It isn’t found in the film’s subject; Pearce’s oafish, over-the-top performance does its job until a weakened reveal introduces incredulity into the equation. It does reinforce Piller’s journey, anchored by Bang’s performance as much as the character. The film’s focus shied away from van Meergren, Friedkin’s broad, thick strokes muddy the canvas, rendering an uneven and inconsistent painting.
“The Last Vermeer” is Recommended for its strong supporting cast and central theme, while its central character either doesn’t support the film’s themes or isn’t supported by the film’s themes.