“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
Running time: 1 hour, 58 minutes
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
Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes
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
Running time: 1 hour, 49 minutes