Set in Amsterdam following the end of World War II, The Last Vermeer is based on the true story of Dutch art dealer Hans van Meegeren (played by Guy Pierce). A failed artist, van Meegeren nonetheless enjoyed a spectacularly lavish lifestyle. And most of his wealth came from a single transaction: the sale of a Johannes Vermeer painting titled Christ with the Woman Taken in Adultery for the incredible price of 1.6 million guilders.
But now with the war over, Nazi conspirators are being rounded up and shot on the streets of the Dutch capital. And so van Meegeren has a serious problem, because he sold his Vermeer to Hermann Goering, Hitler's top aide. The sale is brought to the attention of army captain Joseph Piller (played by Claes Bang, star of another art-world drama, The Square). Piller is tasked by the Allies with finding who was involved in dealing in masterpieces stolen from Jews.
Piller finds and questions van Meegeren, who sheds little light on the sale and ends up in prison as a result. Then things get trickier. Members of the Dutch government claim jurisdiction over van Meegeren and seek to question him. Piller suspects the Dutch aren't keen on justice, so he kidnaps van Meegeren and hides him, soon learning that there's more to the art dealer's story. Eventually, van Meegeren is found and put on trial for conspiring with the enemy. He maintains his innocence and offers an incredible story in his defence.
Directed by Dan Friedkin, The Last Vermeer, with its engrossing true story of looted masterpieces and enemy collaboration, should have all it needs for gripping drama. But the whole thing feels too overwrought. Equally interesting in the story is what constitutes collaboration with the enemy, when many just did what they did to survive the war. This is teased out a little, but ultimately relegated behind a by-the-numbers account of van Meegeren's exploits, concluding with a lengthy and often silly court scene.
The cast tries their best. Guy Pierce is certainly compelling as the flamboyant van Meegeren, a strange man you can't decide whether to like or loath. Claes Bang drives much of the plot and has his moments, but is too often wooden, especially when he's doing his bad cop routine. The rest of the cast aren't much developed and never come in from the periphery.
The Last Vermeer tells a fascinating story in an only vaguely interesting way. You just can't help thinking that lurking down in the source material, within this amazing true story, there was a better movie to be made.