Appreciating works by an all-time great artist took an extra hit when the Covid-19 pandemic closed most museums and delayed release of a film called The Last Vermeer. Many museums remain shuttered, but local theaters started screening The Last Vermeer in November, providing the chance to once again appreciate the genius of the man whose “Girl With a Pearl Earring” painting inspired a well-liked arthouse film starring Colin Firth and Scarlett Johansson nearly twenty years ago.
This newer film offers a key difference from biopics by never showing the artist Johannes Vermeer. Instead, it joins movies like The Monuments Men and Woman in Gold by dealing with real-life Nazi plots to relocate great masterworks. The screenplay clarifies Vermeer’s skill and value, both artistically and financially—at least based on the price Nazi official Hermann Göring paid for his Vermeer.
Director Dan Friedkin uses settings and lighting to catch the master’s staging sensibility in deceptively simple settings that place strong focus on just a few characters. His actors present appropriate looks to the real-life characters they play, with Denmark’s stalwart Claes Bang standing tall as a fighter who believes justice will always win.
Enter Han Van Meegeren to upend everything as an unsuccessful artist accused of aiding Nazis by selling them stolen masterworks. The sharp-featured actor Guy Pearce of L.A. Confidential blends a carefully groomed presence with dapper insouciance, always enjoying the chance to shock and surprise
Similarly, The Last Vermeer plot heads down an unexpected path (for those unfamiliar with art history) after starting with an initially simple springboard. Like Vermeer’s paintings, the movie’s colorful premise gains depth by exploring the blacks, whites, and most importantly, grays of life.