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THE MOVIE GUY — Fascinating but mediocre “Vermeer”

“The Last Vermeer”

NL Film

Directed by Dan Friedkin

Starring Guy Pearce, Claes Bang, August Diehl and Vicky Krieps

Rated R

 

2 ½ Stars

 

Han van Meegeren was a real-life artist, con man and bon vivant who swindled Nazis during the war.

For some, he was a colorful resistance fighter, perhaps even a Dutch national hero, but others saw him as an opportunist and sought to have him prosecuted for war crimes.

Which characterization of the man is correct?

I’m not sure that anybody really knows.

All of which provides the groundwork for a fascinating new World War II drama, “The Last Vermeer.” Guy Pearce turns in a bravura performance playing van Meegeren, and I don’t hesitate to say that his performance alone makes this movie worth seeing.

The rest of the cast isn’t quite up to Pearce’s standard, although I did like Claes Bang, who plays Captain Piller, a Canadian officer charged with tracking down and repatriating stolen art work after the war.

He hears that van Meegeren once sold a priceless Vermeer painting to none other than Hermann Goring, so he wants to see the artist prosecuted for his shameful actions.

Yet Cpt. Pillar senses there is more to this story. He follows his instincts and hides van Meegeren away in an attic while he continues his investigation. I won’t spoil the results here but know the answers lead up to a satisfying court room climax where the Nazis aren’t the only bad guys being vilified in the end.

I’m guessing a lot of Europeans already know this story, but as this was new to my ears, I was absolutely intrigued by this story that’s so crazy that it must be true. Unfortunately, a mediocre screenplay saps the film of some of its natural drama because of a bad case of on-the-nose writing. There’s very little subtext in this script, only actors playing surface-level motivations that frequently end up ringing dramatically false.

There are also a whole lot of characters here. That’s often a problem in historical dramas, where trying to keep track of who is who hampers your ability to enjoy the story. That’s a shame because while not everybody is operating at Pearce’s level, the cast mostly turns in solid, if sometimes unremarkable performances.

I also think the cinematography and production design are top drawer, giving the film a prestige feel that should please most fans of World War II dramas.

All of which means if you happen to be somebody who enjoys a juicy period drama and is willing to really concentrate on a film’s plot, then you will probably enjoy “The Last Vermeer.”

Fans of Guy Pearce will also get a kick out of the movie.

But casual movie goers will probably be disappointed by this film. It’s still a fascinating story with an intriguing central character, but the filmmaking craftmanship simply isn’t worthy of van Meegeren’s legacy.

The films opens Nov. 20.

 

Movie reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published each week by Port Arthur Newsmedia and seen weekly on KFDM and Fox4. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@sbgtv.com.