Fourth Coast Entertainment -

By Craig Thornton
FCE Contributing Writer 

Woman in Gold


Last updated 6/2/2015 at 5:41am | View PDF

Woman in Gold

The toll of World War II will haunt humankind for a long, long time. The devastation and destruction is immeasurable and the stories, both heroic and tragic, are so numerous, we will be telling them for many decades to follow. For the last twenty years tales of priceless artwork plundered by Nazis, have come to the forefront, including the story behind the Woman in Gold.

Helen Mirren plays Maria Altmann an elderly Jewish Austrian woman living in Los Angeles in the 1990's who escaped Austria shortly after the German annexation in 1938. After the death of her sister, Maria discovers letters that embolden her to challenge the Austrian government to recover works of art stolen from her family, including Gustave Klimt's "Woman in Gold" (originally entitled Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer), hanging in the government run Austrian art gallery in Vienna. Although the Austrian government prides itself on its track record of restitution, there doesn't seem to be any hope of them giving up the painting, now considered the "Mona Lisa" of Austria. Furthermore, through a shaky will, the Austrian government seems to have a legal path to possession. The battle seems almost impossible, but that doesn't stop young lawyer Randol Schoenberg; grandson of Austrian Jewish composer Arnold Schoenberg, a refugee of Nazi Germany. This certainly gives him a vested interest.

This amazing story of an elderly dress seller and her young intelligent, ballsy lawyer successfully taking on the Austrian government against all odds has been documented in books and documentaries before this movie. Because of this, the film lacks a certain urgency. There is an attempt to build to a revelation for Maria, that would emotionally underscore the legal journey, but it isn't exactly earth shattering or a mystery when this is discovered.

Despite this, Helen Mirren's peerless performance will hold your attention throughout. Totally believable, with her perfect Austrian accent and a steeliness behind the warmth of her eyes, Mirren once again creates a character that is emotionally available beneath a tower of dignity and manners. She is so good, that everyone seems to be an amateur in her presence. Ryan Reynolds, in a change of pace, plays Randol. Playing down his handsomeness and "sexiest man alive" past, Reynolds brings integrity and a working man's presence to Maria's knight in shining armor. However, even his movie star charisma cannot compete with Mirren and he seems acting-class-sloppy in his big emotional scene. Then again acting with Mirren would be like a junior varsity basketball player playing Horse with Michael Jordan.

Woman in Gold

Katie Holmes as Randol's litigation-widowed wife fares badly. Although she is in a painfully underwritten role that skirts whiny house wife clichés, she just doesn't appear to know how to act. European actor Daniel Bruhl comes across better as real life Austrian reporter Hubertus Czernin, an ally to Maria and Randol on the home front.

The film looks good and Simon Curtis' artistic team does impressive things with locations, and evocative cinematography, especially in the flashback sequences. However such a fascinating story should be told fascinatingly and sometimes it is sluggish. Woman in Gold is a good film, but not a great film. However, it is a story that needs to be told, and your enjoyment of the film maybe be directly related to your interest in the subject matter or interest in Helen Mirren. Yes, it is a must for Helen Mirren fans.


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