Thursday, March 26, 2015

Woman in Gold: Movie Review


Succeeds in telling a story that's interesting.
Woman in Gold took an interesting story and just told it. Which is all it needs to do because it is interesting. Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren) is a Jewish refugee who fled from Austria during World War II and since built a life for herself in California. After the death of her sister, Maria discovers letters from her Aunt detailing their family's rightful ownership of several Gustav Klimt paintings stolen by the Nazis, including the famous portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, simply known as the Woman in Gold. 2015

Directed by: Simon Curtis

Screenplay by: Alexi Kaye Campbell

Starring: Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds

Maria hires a family friend lawyer Randy Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds) to see what her legal options are to get back the painting. The film very effortlessly and humorously established Maria as a feisty octagenarian who's going to do what she wants when she wants regardless of what other people suggest, and Randy as a down-on-his-luck failed lawyer who accepts a job based on his family name at the same time that Maria is going to tell him what to do. The pair had a very easy-going chemistry that allows the film to switch from drama to comedy and back to drama.
When we first travel to Vienna, we start getting the background to Maria's family. It was too over-wrought to be as interesting as it should be, and seemingly unbeknownst to the filmmakers, the audience already has the emotional context needed. Leading lady Helen Mirren told us everything we needed to know about how it felt to return to her home country which abandoned her and her fellow Jews during Hitler's rise to power. But it was nice to see the painting in all its golden glory and an actress cast as Adele Bloch-Bauer who as an acute resemblance to the painting's subject.

After some short sojourns into the past, the film moves forward in the present and the continuing legal battle between Altmann and the Austrian government who took over ownership of the paintings after the fall of the Nazi regime. Even though the film makes it clear that at times Randy and Maria's motivations to re-claim the painting is driven by money and the power that the immense estimated value of the painting holds, there is still a surprising lack of cynicism.

With legal twists involving the U.S. Supreme Court, harrowing escapes, and a helpful Austrian investigative journalist who has unclear motives, the film always remains interesting. The leads are also given enough witty one-liners to keep it entertaining even though they're just telling a story.
Best of 2015

Similar Titles:

Philomena (2013) - Masterfully written, beautifully portrayed story that is better than just a human interest story.

The Imitation Game (2014) - Codes, war and homosexuality in an interesting balancing act.

The Monuments Men (2014) - Telling an historical story comedically and missing a level of entertainment.