By Lynn Venhaus

War criminal or war hero? Man of mystery artist and art dealer Han van Meegeren became a man of infamy after World War II. But his true story has been mostly forgotten until “The Last Vermeer,” which recounts this notorious case in a melodramatic and twisty narrative.

The time is 1945 and the place is Holland. The found painting is “Christ and the Adulteress” by Dutch Master Johannes Vermeer of the 17th century baroque period.

van Meegeren (Guy Pearce) is suspected of selling stolen Dutch art treasures to Hermann Goering and other upper echelon Nazis during World War II. Now that the war is over, Joseph Piller (Claes Bang), a Dutch Jew, becomes an investigator assigned to identify and redistribute the paintings. Van Meegeren is accused of collaboration, which is a crime punishable by death. Piller and his assistant (Vicky Krieps) are convinced he’s innocent – despite mounting evidence – and will fight to save his life.

The procedural screenplay, written by Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby, is based on an adaptation of Jonathan Lopez’s, “The Man Who Made Vermeers,” and gets considerable mileage from Guy Pearce as the flamboyant van Meegeren.

The role gives theb Australian actor plenty of scenery to chew, for the art dealer was a smooth operator. After the Germans occupied the Netherlands, he threw lavish parties and showed no signs of a moral compass.

Pearce, who disappears into every role he’s in, from “L.A. Confidential” and “Memento” to “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” and “Iron Man 3,” digs in and is quite saucy about the secrets he’s hiding.  

All that hedonism rubs stoic soldier Joseph Piller the wrong way, although he’s not above resorting to shenanigans to keep the government stooges out of his way. As colorful as van Meegeren is, Piller is lacking in flavor. Bang, so good in “The Square” and “The Burnt Orange Heresy,” both movies dealing with art, is rather dull and stiff here.

The women characters are underserved and the supporting cast plays standard characters all in service to the story, which leads us to a climactic court scene full of fireworks. Van Meegeren’s argument is that he defrauded the Nazis, no collaboration.

The movie’s a tad clumsy under the first-time direction by Dan Friedkin but redeems itself in the final third.

With “The Last Vermeer,” there seems to be an endless stream of World War II characters whose story is enough to build a film around, like “Resistance” earlier this year.

The film’s courtroom drama outshines its thriller elements. It serves a purpose as both a history lesson and an art tutorial.

“The Last Vermeer” is a drama, directed by Dan Friedkin and stars Guy Pearce, Claes Bang and Vicky Krieps.
Rated R for some language, violence and nudity, the run-time is 1 hr. 58 minutes. Lynn’s Grade:: B-. The film opened in theatres on Nov. 20,

By Lynn Venhaus
A juicy neo-noir thriller, “The Burnt Orange Heresy” has a lush backdrop, a steamy love affair and a fascinating setting in the international art world.

James Figueras (Claes Bang), a charming and ambitious art critic, spends his days in Milan lecturing tourists about art history. It’s an easy way to make a buck and he is quite good at it. He is invited to the estate of wealthy art dealer Joseph Cassidy (Mick Jagger) and brings along new love interest Berenice Hollis (Elizabeth Debicki), an American on holiday. Also living on the property near Lake Como is reclusive artist Jerome Debney (Donald Sutherland). 

As James has fallen from grace, a shot at redemption is appealing – and provides a financial opportunity. But is this scheme worth it? Turns out, everyone has secrets! As a web of intrigue gets more tangled, we learn more about the four people who are integral to this story.

Based on Charles Willeford’s 1971 novel, the film has much to recommend. The script is adapted by Scott B. Smith, whose book-turned-into-film “A Simple Plan” followed a similar pattern of a too-good-to-be-true scheme that goes horribly awry. 

We’re in Milan as the story begins with witty banter between smart and attractive people — and sparks soon fly between Claes Bang and Elizabeth Debecki. 

Once we arrive at the luxurious northern Italian villa owned by the rich and roguish Joseph Cassidy, there is a palpable air of mystery. What fate awaits?

Man of the house Mick Jagger, who is only in two scenes, makes the most of his mischievous international wheeler-dealer. With a twinkle in his eye and hints at danger, he’s fun to watch. 

So is Donald Sutherland as a reclusive aging artist. Debney’s reputation rises and falls, a sign of art’s hard-to-interpret and sometimes fickle nature. Director Giuseppe Capotondi shows both the sophistication and the pretensions of the art world.

This is Capotondi’s first English-language feature after the intriguing “The Double Hour” in 2009, and he is good at setting up symbols and clever with details. With cinematographer David Ungaro and production designer Totoi Santoro, they give us breathtaking panoramas and an opulent estate. Composer Craig Armstrong’s score enhances the ‘something’s afoot’ tone.

Bang, who made the art satire “The Square” a few years ago, and Debecki, good in “Widows,” have terrific chemistry from the start. Her small-town teacher character is more enigmatic than he is, and the men are all captivated by her. 

That is why the third act, which some find problematic, worked for me. It may stretch logic a tad, but all film noir has delicious zigs and zags. 

As a luscious summer escape, sink into a gorgeous place with pretty people and signs of temptation everywhere – where will it lead? Follow the twists and turns, and you will be rewarded.

“The Burnt Orange Heresy” is a thriller directed by Giuseppe Capotondi, starring Claes Bang, Elizabeth Debecki, Mick Jagger and Donald Sutherland. It is Rated R for some sexual content/nudity, language, drug use and violence. Run-time is: 99 min.
Lynn’s Grade: A-

Video on Demand and Select Theatres This film closed the Venice Film Festival last fall and is now available on demand and is playing in select theaters, including the Hi-Pointe Theatre, as of Aug. 7.