WOMAN IN GOLD, directed by Simon Curtis, is the incredible true story of a woman’s quest to reclaim art that was stolen by the Nazis during WWII. Maria Altmann (older- Helen Mirren; younger- Tatiana Maslany), immigrated to the United States from Austria after the Nazis took control in the Anschluss. Coming from a wealthy Jewish family, she and her fiancee (Max Irons) had to escape quickly and weren’t able to take anything with them. As was typical with Nazi occupation, soldiers quickly descended on Maria’s family home and took precious art and jewelry from the family. Some 50+ years later, one of her family’s most treasured pieces of art, a portrait of her late aunt Adele (“The Woman In Gold”), is now hanging in a museum in Vienna. Considered the “Mona Lisa of Austria”, the painting is worth $100+ million, but that doesn’t stop Maria from trying to reclaim her stolen property. Enlisting the help of a friend’s son, attorney Randy Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds), the two take on the Austrian government to get justice for Maria and pay tribute to the millions who also lost their lives and property during WWII.
No surprise, Helen Mirren is her usual amazing self, elevating the script and making the most out of sometimes silly dialogue. But what really struck me was another all-star performance from Tatiana Maslany. Not only does she play 92390234 characters in ORPHAN BLACK (and plays them well!) she apparently also speaks German and French! No wonder she sounded so great delivering her lines. I think she only spoke maybe two lines of English in the whole film. Seriously, is there anything she can’t do?
With such a fascinating story and all-star cast, WOMAN IN GOLD is certainly inspiring and informative. However, at times the film felt cliched and predictable. Of course, at first Randy isn’t going to want to take the case, but then he will make it his life’s mission. Of course, a reluctant Maria will make a grand entrance back in Austria to see the litigation take place. I know this is a true story, but I think the screenwriter could have done a little bit better of a job not telegraphing various plot points. Ryan Reynolds also felt miscast, as he was supposed to play a geeky lawyer. Even with fake teeth, it’s hard to disguise his handsomeness. This is not a knock on Reynolds performance; he was great. But when the real Randy Schoenberg was shown at the end of the film, it was surprising that Reynolds was the one chosen for the part.
Additionally, I had an issue with the look of the flashback scenes. Curtis washed out the color in these flashbacks to show a difference between past and present. Not only was this distracting, but it did not look great on-screen. I felt like I was watching a VHS version of the film. Maybe I am giving audiences too much credit, but I think we are intelligent enough to be able to discern between past and present without this visual change. I’ll even give Curtis the benefit of the doubt and say the drabness was used to show the hopelessness felt during Nazi occupation. Regardless, I was not a fan.
Despite my criticisms, WOMAN IN GOLD brings an interesting, true story to the public consciousness. While I wouldn’t suggest you run out to theaters to see it, it’s interesting enough for a DVD rental. And I hear this book on the topic is really great, too.
My review: B