Johannes Vermeer was one of the greatest Dutch painters of the 17th century. How his works are connected to World War II, and the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands is the underlying subject of this movie directed by Dan Friedkin and written by Danny Friedkin and Ryan Friedkin. Based on Dutch art dealer and painter’s real story—also a socialite, Han Van Meegeren (Guy Pearce) has a Canadian connection since it happens right after Holland had been liberated by Canadian forces. In fact, Joseph Piller (Claes Bang) a captain with the Canadian army is in charge of investigating the mysterious operation by which valuable art pieces by Vermeer, were ready to be shipped to no other than Herman Goering. The latter had paid a hefty price for them.
After the liberation, many Dutch are now chasing down collaborators, and sometimes applying summary justice—something that would start to shock Piller. When the captain finally captures, Van Meegeren, who appears to be responsible for the Vermeer works’ sale, puts him in prison. However, now he would have to deal with some Dutch justice department agents. They seem interested in applying the same type of expedite procedures that he had seen on the streets. Besides, Piller starts having doubts about Van Meegeren’s guilt. Piller and his military assistant (Andrew Havill) take the suspect out of prison and keep him under their own military protection. However, that would soon end: the Canadian forces start to leave. Piller can no longer offer any protection to his prisoner. “We were the liberators, but now we are starting to be seen as a nuisance,” comments Canada’s Col. Jenkins (Richard Dillane) to Pillar when the captain came to request his help. Dutch agent August Diehl (Alex De Klerks) is particularly determined to get his hands on Van Meegeren, which he finally does. The flamboyant dealer is brought to trial as a traitor who was ready to sell valuable Dutch art to the enemy. The prosecutor asks for the death penalty.
What ensues is perhaps the most interesting part of the movie, the courtroom drama in which Piller would be a key player in defence of Van Meegeren. The twists in the story, however, don’t end there.
“The Last Vermeer” shown an uneven story development, in fact, much of the first part seems superfluous once the plot unveils the real drama. Much of the romance parts are also mostly irrelevant since we know little about Piller’s wife’s background, for instance, and his relationship with his secretary doesn’t go very far either. The same for the romantic life of Van Meegeren and a married woman. In short, the movie’s real interest lies in the development of the trial and its final sequence. There is the interesting reflection Piller (and us as spectators) could make about justice in the hands of victors, which may just be vengeance if not subject to scrutiny.
Recommended to those who like films with historical background, and based on a real story.
Feature image: Han Van Meegeren (Guy Pearce) would display his “abilities” to prove his innocence in “The Last Vermeer”
Available on VOD, different platforms – Running Time: 118 min