Starring: Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds, Daniel Brühl, Tatiana Maslany, Katie Holmes, Charles Dance
Directed By: Simon Curtis
Written By: Alexi Kaye Campbell
Rating: PG-13 (US) Running Time: 1 hr 49 min
Woman in Gold is based on the true story of Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren), a Holocaust survivor living in Los Angeles who, together with her lawyer E. Randol Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds), sues the Austrian government to reclaim Gustav Klimt’s portrait of her aunt, the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I. Which by 1998, when this story opens, is the jewel of the Austrian State Gallery and not something they are willing to part with.
It’s a story told mostly during the legal wranglings of the late 90’s and early 2000’s. As our characters globe trot between Austria, Washington DC and Los Angeles. Occasionally flashing back in time to Nazi occupied Austria, so the audience can understand how the painting was stolen, and how Maria escaped the Holocaust. It’s a big story, and tackles weighty subjects like restitution, regret, the shame of a nation that mostly complied with Nazi rule, and of course, the Holocaust. Guided to our theaters by big name stars, and a qualified director. So it’s surprising the end result lands as flatly as it does.
For starters, it seems like writer Alexi Kaye Campbell’s lauded stage play credentials have not adapted well to the art of writing a screenplay for film. Character introductions are rushed, thereby cursing the film with an underdeveloped foundation. This then unfortunately starves the movie of its potential emotional heft, when we later need to feel something for the characters in this story. Quality actors like Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds can only do so much with the material they are given. And a solid screenplay that properly develops the important relationship between their two characters within this story is important. With that missing, the first act of the film plays-out like a highlight reel of events, and not something that helps the audience connect with these characters, or root for their cause.
Another problem I had with the film was due to its casting. On the one hand, hiring Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black) to be the young Helen Mirren was genius! She looks every bit the younger version of the talented Dame. And let’s not forget an incredibly talented actress in her own right. On the other hand, the film weirdly casts big names for really small supporting roles. Not quite cameos, but not far removed, and having Katie Holmes, Charles Dance and even Jonathan Pryce show up to do very little, is just an egregious waste of talent, and distracting.
Despite these complaints however, the movie does get better towards the end, and does manage to squeeze some genuine emotion out of the story as Maria Altmann replays moments with her family. Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds, being the talented professionals they are, also manage to build some limited chemistry, which results in some nice moments of humor. This story however, deserved a better developed screenplay, and sadly never hits as hard as it should have.
If you enjoy well acted true life stories, then you may get some enjoyment out of this film. At my screening, the audience was mostly older, and they certainly seemed to connect with this material more than I did. The movie is rated PG-13 so the more violent moments during the flash backs to the Nazi occupation never get too graphic.
To me, a lot of the film, especially the flashback scenes, had a slightly washed out flat look, which I found it a little distracting. I am willing to concede the theater I was in had something to do with that though. Otherwise, this a nice looking film and a matinée screening is recommended. At home a HD screening on your TV will let you get the most out of this production.
Best Moment: << mild spoiler >>
Young Maria Altmann (Tatiana Maslany) is escaping house arrest with her husband, and must say goodbye to her parents. Certainly the most effective scene in the film, and I definitely heard a few sniffles from the audience during this touching moment.