Pieter de Hooch, Gerard ter Borch, Johannes Vermeer, these are all names that any art enthusiast knows. Yet, Han van Meegeren is a name that may allude some. Van Meegeren might not have been one of history’s greatest painters, but he was one of the greatest art forgers who ever lived. That may explain why van Meegeren has faded into obscurity. After all, why should anyone care about a forgery of Girl with a Pearl Earring when they can see the real deal at the Mauritshuis? Watching The Last Vermeer, however, we’re reminded just how absorbing van Meegeren’s story is. Whether you want to call him a fraud, a genius, or an ingenious fraud, van Meegeren is a name that deserves to be talked about a lot more.
Guy Pearce’s career has seen its highs (L.A. Confidential, Memento, The Count of Monte Cristo) and lows (The Time Machine, Prometheus). The Last Vermeer is a definite highpoint for Pearce, though. He delivers one of his most charismatic performances as van Meegeren, giving him the devilish yet debonair demeanor of a classic conman. Pearce’s charming attitude perfectly offsets the no-nonsense Captain Joseph Piller (Claes Bang). A Jewish hero of the Dutch Resistance, Piller hunts down van Meegeren for selling priceless works of art to the Nazis. He comes to realize, however, that Piller and the paintings aren’t what they seem.
Van Meegeren aspired to be an artist, although critics failed to see his gifts. He proved his talent by forging several masterstrokes of the Dutch Golden Age and passing them off as originals. The Last Vermeer takes a little too long for Piller to come to this revelation, which causes the first act to drag. Once the puzzle pieces fall into place, however, the film develops into a thoroughly gripping courtroom drama. It’ll take more than van Meegeren’s testimony to prove that he’s only guilty of fraud and forgery. Piller comes to his aid, although the court can’t see what’s right in front of them.
As someone who has only dabbled in art history, I can’t say with confidence just how accurate The Last Vermeer is. There’s a particular moment towards the end of the trial that feels more in the spirit of Hollywood than real life. Based on a quick internet search, though, I can say that the film does get many fascinating details about van Meegeren’s life right. Even if some artistic license was taken, you could argue that’s fitting for a legendary forger. In any case, the fact that The Last Vermeer got be to look up its central figure is a sign of the film’s success.
The Last Vermeer works splendidly as a court drama, but it’s also something of an unconventional buddy picture. The chemistry between Pearce and Piller is what ultimately makes the film, although Dan Friedkin’s stylish direction certainly helps. Up until this point, Friedkin has primarily served as a producer on films like All the Money in the World and The Square. He’s also performed stunts in projects like Dunkirk, but The Last Vermeer marks his directorial debut. For a first feature, it’s impressive an impressive piece of art.
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