Director Dan Friedkin dips his brush into the complicated emotions following World War II, masterfully painting an exquisite portrait of two men that's dripping with the messiness of human nature. He begins by muddling the clarity of strict definitions of right and wrong, which is how Piller sees the world. Piller, a Jewish man who'd joined the Dutch Resistance, is now working to rectify wrongs by recovering stolen art and returning it to the rightful, usually Jewish, owners. At the same time, the Dutch government is tracking down those who consorted and conspired with the Nazis. When the two investigations lead to the same man, van Meegeren, the film's real purpose becomes clear. What is morality? What is integrity? While we can look at the extreme ends of the spectrum and see people in terms of good (Freedom Fighters) and bad (Nazis), the actions of many lie in the middle. So then what?
This twisty story is accompanied by top-notch cinematography, phenomenal production design, wonderful costumes, and excellent acting. Bang drums up such a dashing image of righteousness frayed by emotional anguish that it's hard to believe he can play anything else. (But he can: He plays a despicable rogue in another art drama, The Burnt Orange Heresy.) And Pearce portrays the inscrutable van Meegeren with controlled zeal -- the restraint is to deliver believability, as apparently the real van Meegeren was truly a smug, flamboyant charmer. The Last Vermeer isn't perfect. There are moments that could use a bigger pronouncement, as well as some underexplained character relationships. But it's pretty darn good -- and for teens, it could be an intriguing vehicle to help understand the aftermath and psychology of a harrowing war. And for a more timely debate about cancel culture, it offers an excellent look at the complexities of character. Or try this: It's part of the rationale for why history proves over and over that society is willing to overlook criminal acts by larger-than-life con men.