Tuesday, November 17, 2020

A not-so-nice piece of Dutch history arrives on-screen in Dan Friedkin's THE LAST VERMEER

The Netherlands, that country from which (some of) TrustMovies' forebears arrived, may be best known world-wide for trying (unsuccessfully) to protect Anne Frank, so it's probably more than a little healthy and salutary to learn about a less mainstream chapter of Dutch history occurring just post-World War II. 

At this point in time, we've already been given a number of movies -- narrative and documentary -- about how Nazi Germany trafficked in stolen art treasures, yet the tale told in the new film, THE LAST VERMEER, in certain ways at least, bests them all. It's amazing -- and then some. And if you don't already know about a man named Han van Meergeren, do not click on the link above until after viewing this film. Otherwise, you'll spoil half the fun of this based-on-true-events movie.

Written by a trio of screenwriters (including John Orloff, who wrote the book on which the film is based) and directed by first-time filmmaker Dan Friedkin (shown at right), the movie is unfortunately very slow-going for the first of its two hours (other than one smart prison-escape scene). I encourage you to stick it out, however, because the second half, including a crackerjack courtroom trial and some fascinating post-trial information, is much more swiftly paced and a lot more fun. 

Part of this is due to the need to pack in a lot of exposition and introduce a box-car full of characters, of which -- no big surprise -- the males register more strongly than do the females. 

Leading roles are taken by Guy Pearce (above), who plays the beleaguered van Meegeren and gives one of his best performances in a long while. As his adversary and then helper is that always interesting actor Claes Bang (below), who plays Joseph Piller, a Jew who fought in the Dutch resistance and is now given the job of investigating van Meegeren and his art dealings during the Nazi occupation. The two actors play off each other very nicely indeed, with Pearce the witty aesthete and Bang the too-serious military man.

Each of the men have a couple of women who scurry around them, adding a little beauty to the proceedings but only as much depth of character as the screenplay allows. Among these, Vicky Krieps (below) is the sweet helper to Piller, while Olivia Grant (two photos below) plays van Meegeren's showy but not terribly intelligent girlfriend.

As I say, the latter half of the film much outdoes the former, with surprise coming upon surprise, the result offering a sad and cynical finale in which few characters come out looking all that good. And though the general population of The Netherlands appear to have had their hearts and minds in the right place back then, you will probably not feel so positive about the country's police, politicians or judiciary.

A word or two must also be said for the movie's best supporting performance -- that of Roland Møller (below) in the role of  Dekker, Piller's second-in-command, who offers occasional but much-needed brawn. Mr. Møller provides everything from wit, versatility and even sex appeal to what could easily have been "just another performance," and the film is much the better for his sterling work. 

Distributed by TriStar Pictures/Sony and running 118 minutes, The Last Vermeer opens this Friday, November 20, more or less nationwide, I believe. Here in South Florida, you can find it at the following AMC threaters: Aventura Mall, Sunset Place, Pompano Beach, Hialeah 12 and Tamiami

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