The dark haired, strapping Danish actor Claes Bang played a museum curator in 2017’s “The Square.” In last year’s “The Burnt Orange Heresy” he played a jaded art critic. In “The Last Vermeer” he plays a Dutchman, working with the Canadian army, after the fall of Germany in World War II, repatriating paintings and sculptures stolen by the Nazis.
Directed by Dan Friedkin (no relation to the director William; this Friedkin’s father, Thomas, is a renowned stunt pilot) and adapted from the nonfiction book “The Man Who Made Vermeers” by Jonathan Lopez, the movie opens with the discovery of “Jesus and the Adulteress,” a work reputedly by Vermeer, stashed away by Hermann Göring. Bang’s character, Joseph Piller, is eager to track down whoever sold it to the Nazis, despite his misgivings about the firing squads he sees dispensing rough justice in Amsterdam.
It doesn’t take him long to find Han van Meegeren (Guy Pearce), an ostensibly failed artist who more than passes the smell test for a collaborator. But Piller can’t quite believe in van Meegeren’s guilt. He’s committed some kind of crime, to be sure. But what?
The film moves from detective story to courtroom drama with nicely sketched character studies as a bonus; Piller’s marriage is suffering because he can’t accept his own wife’s undercover work during the war. While Vicky Krieps does stealthily affecting work as Piller’s assistant, the movie ultimately belongs to Pearce’s van Meegeren, an aging dandy intent on long-term revenge — even at the potential cost of his own freedom — against the art world insiders who disdained and shunned him.
The Last Vermeer
Rated R for language, themes, brief nudity. Running time: 1 hour 57 minutes. In theaters. Please consult the guidelines outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before watching movies inside theaters.