On May 29, 1945, three weeks after the fall of Hitler’s Reich, some treasures belonging to Hermann Göring are found in a railway car in an Austrian salt mine. Among these items are several works of art, no doubt illegally obtained. Before the war, Joseph Piller (Claes Bang) was just a simple tailor, but as a Dutch Jew, his life was in danger, and so he joined the Resistance. Now, Captain Joseph Piller is part of the Allied Provisional Government, and his team has been tasked with finding out who originally stole these valuable works of art, and who sold them to the Nazis, so that the artwork can be returned to their rightful owners and that those who profited from their sale can be punished. One particular item of interest is a painting by Johannes Vermeer, Christ and the Adulteress, which at that time, was the most expensive piece of art ever sold.
Piller’s investigation soon leads him to Han Van Meegeren (Guy Pearce), a wealthy, divorced painter/art lover who helped to broker the deal. Piller takes Van Meegeren into custody for interrogation, however, he is not very cooperative and forthcoming with information, just providing vague details and names that require further investigation. Van Meegeren also insists that he needs his paints and a canvas for inspiration in order to assist Piller. Piller reluctantly agrees to allow Van Meegeren’s assistant Cootje (Olivia Grant) to bring them, only to discover later that Van Meegeren was once again less than forthcoming, and that his assistant is also his mistress. Meanwhile, there are others looking for Van Meegeren, such as Alex De Klerks (August Diehl), an officer with The Ministry of Justice. There has been a constant clash between the Ministry and the Allied Provisional Government as to who has jurisdiction. De Klerks and his men are less concerned with uncovering the truth, and more interested in simply finding and publicly executing Nazi collaborators. So Piller stashes Van Meegeren in the attic of his office building, and hires former Resistance buddy Esper Dekker (Roland Møller) to watch over the artist while he and his assistant Minna (Vicky Krieps) investigate the leads that Van Meegeren provides. However, as new information comes to light, they soon discover that Van Meegeren was involved in something much larger and more fascinating than just a stolen painting.
The Last Vermeer starts off a little slow, with this game of wits between Piller and Van Meegeren. Van Meegeren is sly and not very forthcoming with information, and he is obviously hiding something. At times the film feels like just one foreign name after the next as Piller tries to piece together who played a role in the sale of the painting, and what kind of a person Van Meegeren is. One art dealer describes Van Meegeren as a third rate artist, first rate opportunist, and raging narcissist, and in Piller’s limited experience, that seems quite accurate. As Piller investigates, he also finds photos of Germans attending parties at Van Meegeren’s home, which stirs up some friction between Piller and his wife. While Piller was hidden away as part of the underground Resistance during the war, his wife was dressing up and spending long nights going to parties, working as a secretary to a German officer. This particular storyline pops up a couple times but never feels fully resolved. Meanwhile, as Piller keeps Van Meegeren hidden away in the attic of his headquarters, the artist works on some mysterious painting, the reason for which doesn’t become apparent until the final act of the film.
The second half of the film was far more entertaining. The movie changes gears, becoming a courtroom mystery/drama as Van Meegeren is put on trial for his crime of collaborating with the enemy. Here we get lots of fun and interesting courtroom twists and theatrics, and see Van Meegeren’s charisma at work as he constantly makes his audience laugh. It’s easy to see why he had previously been described as the life of the party. However, Van Meegeren’s life is on the line, and it doesn’t matter if he can win over the onlookers, it is the judge who is going to need convincing. That means it’s time to reveal the true nature of his involvement with the Vermeer painting, but will his legal representatives be able to prove his fantastical sounding story?
I thoroughly enjoyed the second half of the film, which felt like a completely different movie. I think the first half could have been edited down by half, losing the drama between Piller and his wife, and maybe simplifying the trail of people in Piller’s investigation. It was surprising that the film was based off of a true story as Van Meegeren’s tale is pretty amazing and unbelievable. Guy Pearce really shines in this film, especially in the second half, where Van Meegeren gets the chance to work the crowd.
Sony has released The Last Vermeer on both Blu-ray and DVD, but I was sent the DVD version for review. The DVD release looks and sounds pretty decent for an SD release. Close-up shots and scenes without a lot of action look quite clean and detailed. However, wider shots and those with some action tend to look less sharp and clear. The audio track provides clear dialogue, while also utilizing the surround and stereo channels to provide a more immersive viewing experience. This was especially noticeable in the first half of the film with the sounds of typing and commotion in Piller’s office, and in the second half with the reactions of the peanut gallery in the courtroom. The DVD disc comes packed in a standard DVD keepcase without a slipcover or a digital copy. The release is unfortunately barebones, with some trailers being the only bonus material included on the disc.
- 480i / Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
- Audio: English 5.1 Dolby Digital
- Subtitles: English, English SDH, Chinese Simplified, Chinese Traditional, French, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, Thai
- Theatrical Trailer (2:11)
- Previews (9:57)
Trailers for I Carry You With Me, Nine Days, French Exit, The Last Shift and Yellow Rose play back-to-back.
I found the first half of The Last Vermeer to be a bit slow and confusing in the first half, with a seemingly-endless trail of Dutch and German names during the initial investigation. However, things really pick of in the second half, which presents a fun and interesting trial with lots of clever twists and turns. The second half of the film definitely makes up for the the first, and left me satisfied by the time the credits rolled. Sony’s DVD release looks decent and sounds great, but is barebones and only includes some trailers for bonus material. The film is worth checking out for a very interesting true tale. Though, I would recommend either the Blu-ray or HD digital release.