Film Review – Woman in Gold

Directed: Simon Curtis

Writer: Alexi Kaye Campbell

Starring: Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds, Daniel Brühl 

Tagline: “The fight for justice never ends”

Trivia: An estimated 100,000 works of art stolen by the Nazis have not been returned to their rightful owners.

Sometimes life is writing a better script than any movie can. Trying to capture that on the silver screen can become a risky adventure. In the case of Woman in Gold what saves the day is the performances of those real-life people

Woman in Gold is the amazing true story of Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren), an ageing Austrian living in Los Angeles who decides the time has come to stake a long shot legal claim on the crown jewel of her Jewish family’s Nazi-pilfered legacy: the famed “Lady in Gold,” a portrait of her beloved Aunt Adele painted by renowned Austrian artist Gustav Klimt.

Young lawyer Randol “Randy” Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds), the American grandson of another famous Austrian, composer Arnold Schoenberg, isn’t particularly interested in the merits of Maria’s unsubstantiated dispute, until he learns the painting is worth an estimated $100 million.

Against all odds, this odd couple team up to take on the Austrian government.

This sounds like a perfect script. Directed by Simon Curtis (My Week With Marilyn) from a screenplay by Alexi Kaye Campbell, Woman in Gold turns a complicated story with many debatable questions about artistic provenance and ownership into a standard historical drama about good guys versus bad guys.

Maybe that’s the main fault of this movie. The real exciting story was turned into “paint-by-number” elements of drama, which made it come across as fake. 

What saves the day are the performances of Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds and Daniel Brühl, who plays a sympathetic reporter in Vienna who is trying to help the two.

Played with pitch-perfect self-confidence by Helen Mirren, our first brush with Maria is perfectly prickly. Capturing all the uptight, manner-obsessed, politesse of the Old World way of life, Mirren’s whole screen presence feels wonderfully starched.

Anyone who has ever met these types of Jews; who fled Austria (and Germany), can recognize those gestures and that pride of their heritage.
I could practically see and hear some of my parent’s friends when I was looking at Mirren playing that role.

Reynolds has chosen to play against his usual cast type, as the nerdy attorney who allows Mirren to drag him into this quest.

From the first moment these two share the screen, they create a sense of something larger than the plot itself because despite their obvious differences, they share common ground.

There’s warmth and humor in every scene they share, so even when this rather unremarkable screenplay hits predictable beats, we’re still charmed.

The film is full with flashbacks, however, this time the flashbacks are in place and forces us to recognize the epic dimensions of the backstory, which is crucial in understanding the motives of Altmann and Schoenberg.

As said, the movie suffers from a rather predictable screenplay, but in the hands of this talented cast lead by Mirren, who could complain.

Verdict – 3.5/5 Stars in my book

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