Guy Pearce makes the most of a showy role in “The Last Vermeer.” (Courtesy Jack English/TriStar Pictures 2020 CTMG)

Guy Pearce makes the most of a showy role in “The Last Vermeer.” (Courtesy Jack English/TriStar Pictures 2020 CTMG)

Guy Pearce elevates ‘Last Vermeer’

‘Born to Be’ sensitively documents transgender surgery


“The Last Vermeer” dramatizes the story of Han van Meegeren, the painter, art dealer and master forger who, accused of selling Dutch art treasures to the Germans during World War II, revealed that he’d swindled his Nazi buyers by selling them fakes. Elevated by Guy Pearce’s sterling portrayal of the showy van Meegeren, the movie contains inspired moments. But contrived storytelling prevents it from doing justice to its fascinating subject.

Producer-turned-director Dan Friedkin, working from a screenplay by James McGee, Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby (adapted from a book by Jonathan Lopez), has made a cat-and-mouse thriller and courtroom drama set in postwar Amsterdam. It opens in 1945. A public execution of a Nazi collaborator sets the tone.

Capt. Joseph Piller (Claes Bang), a “Dutch Jew in a Canadian uniform” who served in the Resistance, is tasked with returning Nazi-appropriated Dutch artworks to their rightful owners. Van Meegeren (Pearce), a flamboyant hedonist known for hosting Nazi-attended decadent soirees, enters the picture when Piller discovers that van Meegeren sold a painting — identified as a lost masterpiece by 17th-century Dutch master Johannes Vermeer — to Nazi big wheel Hermann Goring for an enormous sum.

Initially, Piller thinks van Meegeren is guilty of collaboration with the Third Reich. But, assisted by aides both capable (Vicky Krieps) and bumbling (Roland Moller), he comes to believe otherwise. Van Meegeren states that the “masterpieces” he sold to the Nazis were forgeries he painted himself; basically, he ripped off Goring, big-time. The evidence Piller collects supports van Meegeren’s claim. Piller defends van Meegeren in court.

With his waxed devilish eyebrows and oily charm, Pearce’s van Meegeren is a kick. For sure, he’s a brazen opportunist and con man who has become rich from his fakery, which began after critics lambasted his own paintings. But with his enthusiastic embrace of life and art, and his belief that moral compromise is warranted when one’s survival is at stake (such situations seem to occur often for this guy), he’s consistently fun and engaging.

Not even Pearce, however, can give the movie the depth, emotional resonance and narrative credibility it needs.

Friedkin’s connect-the-dots storytelling doesn’t allow the actors enough space and focus to deliver penetrating performances. Marielle Heller’s “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” more deeply explored the dissatisfaction and desperation felt by its forger character, in comparison.

Piller, presented as the primary protagonist while the more compelling van Meegeren serves as the catalyst for Pillar’s emotional evolution, is a bore.

Minidramas — a rival official wrests van Meegeren’s case from Piller; Piller becomes romantically involved with Krieps’ character, Piller separates from his wife, whose wartime activities he finds troubling — feel phony.

Also unnecessary are flashbacks that accompany van Meegeren’s monologues. The big courtroom reveal scene completely lacks believability.

A riveting drama, or perhaps dark comedy, exists somewhere in this movie, but despite Pearce’s contributions, the film shapes up largely as a lightly entertaining missed opportunity.


The Last Vermeer


Starring: Claes Bang, Guy Pearce, Vicky Krieps, Roland Moller

Written by: Hawk Ostby, James McGee, Mark Fergus

Directed by: Dan Friedkin

Rated: R

Running time: 1 hour, 58 minutes

Dr. Jess Ting, left, and Jordan appear in “Born to Be,” an enlightening documentary profiling people undergoing transgender surgery.<ins></ins>

Dr. Jess Ting, left, and Jordan appear in “Born to Be,” an enlightening documentary profiling people undergoing transgender surgery.

Centering on a caring physician, “Born to Be” — streaming in the Roxie theater’s virtual cinema — documents the world of transgender surgery and the art, science and humanity it involves. Expect to be moved by the committed and courageous people featured in this documentary, directed by Tania Cypriano.

Dr. Jess Ting, Cypriano’s central figure, is the surgical director at Mount Sinai Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery, a Manhattan facility that serves trans and nonbinary patients.

Formerly a successful plastic surgeon, Ting, who’s also a classical bassist, now performs gender-affirming surgeries, including facial feminizations, vaginoplasties and phalloplasties, for transgender people who choose to make surgery part of their transition. He entered this practice because other doctors wouldn’t. He views it as a means of uniting a patient’s interior and exterior selves.

Cypriano also follows five patients (Cashmere, Garnet, Jordan, Mahogany, Shawn) from their initial consultations with Ting through the surgical process.

Their stories include childhood bullying, social and familial transphobia, and mental-health issues. Forty-four percent of transgender patients attempt suicide, Ting notes.

Stylistically, the film is conventional, and sometimes, as with her slow-motion moments, Cypriano lets artifice undercut emotion.

But with her thoughtful, nonexploitive approach, and the extraordinary access she’s gained to her subjects, she’s delivered an enlightening and affecting film that compellingly denounces hate and underscores the right of transgender people to receive quality, compassionate health care.


Born to Be


With: Jess Ting

Directed by: Tania Cypriano

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes

The documentary “Collective” urgently follows journalists investigating corruption and ineptitude in Romania’s national health-care system. 
Courtesy Magnolia Pictures

The documentary “Collective” urgently follows journalists investigating corruption and ineptitude in Romania’s national health-care system.
Courtesy Magnolia Pictures

Health practices of the horrific kind come to light in “Collective,” opening Friday in theaters and on video on demand.

Directed by Alexander Nanau, this Romanian documentary follows a group of journalists as they uncover egregious corruption and ineptitude in Romania’s national health-care system while investigating conditions surrounding a fatal nightclub fire.

The film is adroitly edited, journalistically solid, morally infuriating and more gripping than most Hollywood thrillers.




With: Catalin Tolontan, Vlad Voiculescu, Mirela Neag, Tedy Ursuleanu

Directed by: Alexander Nanau

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 49 minutes

Movies and TV

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at

Just Posted

Quarterback Nick Mullens is expected to get his third straight start Sunday. Mullens is 46 of 73 for 538 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions in his other two starts this season. <ins>(Chris Victorio / Special to S.F. Examiner).</ins>
49ers trying to turn season around in Sunday’s prime-time faceoff with the Rams

49ers at Rams When: Sunday, 1:05 p.m. Where: SoFi Stadium, Inglewood TV:… Continue reading

Psilocybin magic mushrooms (Shutterstock)
‘Magic mushrooms’ moving into the mainstream

Efforts to decriminalize psychedelics could follow several different paths

Those who stick around San Francisco on long holiday weekends can enjoy a slower pace, uncrowded streets and beloved institutions like cable cars. <ins>(Kevin Hume/S.F. Examiner)</ins>
These empty San Francisco streets: A holiday dream

We’re here because we can be, and because we have nowhere else to be

The 2020 Census has concluded taking responses sooner than expected. (Courtesy photo)
What does California have to lose if undocumented immigrants are excluded from the census?

By Kim Bojórquez The Sacramento Bee If The U.S. Supreme Court rules… Continue reading

It’s disheartening to see that Bill Graham Civic’s marquee isn’t announcing upcoming concerts. (Screenshot/Bill Graham Civic Twitter)
A cruise through The City with the ghosts of rides past

I take my time and don’t even mind the occasional traffic jams

Most Read