Woman in Gold (2015)

womaningold_2015_poster
Woman in Gold (2015)
  • Time: 107 min
  • Genre: Drama
  • Director: Simon Curtis
  • Cast: Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds, Daniel Brühl, Katie Holmes

Storyline:

Maria Altman sought to regain a world famous painting of her aunt plundered by the Nazis during World War II. She did so not just to regain what was rightfully hers, but also to obtain some measure of justice for the death, destruction, and massive art theft perpetrated by the Nazis.

5 reviews

  • It is surprising how we become accustomed to and accepting of the content of films. The pace needs to build to a very quick ending, it must be big, and, almost always, there must be some violence and sexual content. American movies are rather predictable. This one isn’t. Woman In Gold is a court room drama but of an expansive nature. It covers years and a couple of countries. A couple of people get angry and there are flashbacks to memories of the Nazis but that is as violent as it gets. What we do see is the portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer painted by Gustav Klimpt. It is an amazing painting with Bloch-Bauer slightly off center and surrounded by gold leaf but it’s not the gold leaf that catches your eye. Up on the right, just off center, is Bloch-Bauer and her face draws and holds your attention. There is another Klimt painting of Bloch-Bauer but the gold one is the one that is the best.
    When the Nazis came into Austria they looted the Bloch-Bauer residence. The Klimpt paintings were considered “degenerate art” by the Nazis so they were not taken. Instead, a man from the Vienna Museum knew what they were and took them to the museum and protected them from being destroyed as much of this type of art was. Maria and her sister as well as Maria’s husband, Fritz, are able to escape but the rest of the family was lost to the camps and the everything the family owned was stolen or destroyed. After the war, Maria and her husband led a quiet life in California but when Maria’s sister died Maria found a letter that stated all the paintings and other objects had been inherited by the two girls but all had been taken by the Nazis. Maria decides to fight to get the paintings back even though, by now, the gold portrait is considered the Austrian Mona Lisa and it has been made very clear that Austria is not going to give it up.
    I remember this court case but the movie is so well done, in all areas, that never once did my attention waver and even though I knew the outcome I was still rooting for Maria the whole time. The screenplay is written by Alexi Kaye Campbell and based on biographical materials from both Maria and her lawyer E. Randol Schoenberg. Because court cases can drag on for years, there are a couple huge jumps in time but never in action. Director Simon Curtis keeps the focus and pace without making artificial conflicts to build the action.
    Helen Mirren plays Maria impeccably. You believe every action and every statement. This is an actor whose movies should be seen solely because she is in them. Ryan Reynolds plays her lawyer Randol Schoenberg, who grows from seeing money in the work to seeing the value of the work for what it is. I wouldn’t have expected this of Reynolds but he plays this character with as much believability as Mirren plays Maria.
    There are other standouts in the cast. Max Irons plays Maria’s husband, Fritz, who we only see when they are young. Elizabeth McGovern, Francis Fisher, and Jonathan Price play the kinds of roles that I would call throw aways but in this movie they are perfect. Alan Corduner plays Maria’s father and Henry Goodman plays Adele’s husband and, although the family is wealthy, neither of these men play their character harshly or flaunts the wealth that allows them to have such art in their home.
    I give this movie 4 necklaces out of 4. This is one of those stories that needs to be told, that needs to not be forgotten and this film does a beautiful job of that.

  • (Rating: ☆☆☆ out of 4)

    This film is mildly recommended.

    In brief: No Midas touch…a serious-minded film that only scratches the surface of its important subject.

    GRADE: B-

    It seems standard practice nowadays that whenever a film is touted “based on true events”, it is far from true. Upon researching this biography of Adele Bloch-Bauer and her family, that much is true. The gold standard has been slightly devalued in this noble effort that tells its “true” story in the most melodramatic of ways. Woman in Gold simplifies an important issue (the ethical matter of stolen art during the Nazi reign) and tries to personalize this historic event with stick figures as its characters and the wobbliest of story as its source. While it certainly is engrossing fare, it’s a foolhardy result.

    Set in Vienna, the film centers on Klimt’s masterwork, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I. Once owned by the family and taken away from this Jewish clan and now the property of the Viennese government, the painting is now the treasure in question. A legal fight ensues. In one corner stands our worthy contender, “Saint” Maria Altman (Helen Mirren), who if we are to believe, wants this artwork back in her possession for strictly personal reasons as the painting depicts her dearly beloved grandmother. Taking her case is a young idealistic lawyer, Randol Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds). In the other corner are those nasty governmental bureaucrats who want to keep the work of art for its people as a symbol of patriotism and national pride. And the financial worth of the piece sure doesn’t hurt either.

    The painting becomes the MacGuffin in this film that brings on the conflict and unites both parties in their battle over ownership. Alexi Kaye Campbell’s misbegotten screenplay sees the issue in only black and white terms, with its stilted arguments and painted in the broadest of brushstrokes that never resemble anything remotely realistic. There is no balance in this weighty matter with all sympathies going to our stoic heroine from the outset.

    Adequately directed by Simon Curtis, the film carries its self-importance as its main pedigree. Adele is a feisty and strong-willed character, a predictable combination for the crowd-pleasing audience to root for and Dame Helen energizes the proceeding with her finely nuanced portrayal of a woman determined to fight injustice. But the film’s lack of reality is the real crime in question. (Granted the tale spans decades, yet it should still adhere to the facts more closely…which it does not.) Mr. Reynolds is miscast in the crusader role, part nebbish and part idealistic hero as written, although the actor is never that convincing in the latter. Also in the cast are Daniel Bruhl as Hubertus Czernin, an ally to the cause, Tatiana Maslany as the younger Adele, Max Irons as her husband, and Henry Goodman as her father (in flashbacks), all contributing greatly to their underdeveloped characters. More support is given by Charles Dance, Elizabeth McGovern, Frances Fisher, Jonathan Pryce, and Katie Holmes as Pam, all talent wasted.

    Woman in Gold is a riveting tale. The subject matter alone is compelling, but it remains pure fool’s gold in its filmmaking efforts. See this docudrama for the glowing Ms. Mirren and the glorious artwork on display. They’re priceless.

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  • Films about the Holocaust come out every year, so when a film about the modern impact that dark time in history is made, you would get quite excited to see how this event still affects so many people to this day. And while I’m not at all adverse to seeing an intense legal drama (both To Kill a Mockingbird and A Time to Kill are great legal dramas), that backdrop may not work as well here.

    Woman In Gold takes place in 1998, when young, struggling lawyer Randy Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds) is introduced to his mother’s Austrian friend Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren). Maria’s sister has recently died and she has found some letters that her sister sent to the Austrian government asking about the restitution of her family’s paintings that were stolen from her family by the Nazis, namely the famous Gustav Klimt portrait of her aunt, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I. Maria enlists Randy’s help in the legal case and while at first he is reluctant, he soon decides to help. The pair travel to Vienna, where a symbolic conference is being held on the restitution of these types of artworks and they begin their case. Whilst in Austria, they meet investigative journalist Hubertus Czernin (Daniel Brühl) who helps them with their research.

    This movie staggers along at an odd pace. At times you are being swept up in the progress that Randy is making with the case and at other times it slows right down, as Maria and Randy share a tender moment of understanding and while that sounds completely normal of a drama, it happens at odd and inopportune times. Randy’s wife Pam also shows up, but only at times when Randy is having a crisis of faith and needs some outside direction.

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  • It does not necessarily follow that a film will suffer if one of its principal players is miscast. Nor does it follow that a film cannot survive a complicated subject being drained of all its shadings. One could reasonably argue that director Simon Curtis and debuting screenwriter Alexi Kaye Campbell have built a structurally sound work out of the remarkably true story of Austrian-Jewish Holocaust refugee Maria Altmann’s attempts to recover the titular painting by Gustav Klimt decades after it had been stolen from her family by the Nazis. Woman in Gold is well-intentioned, determinedly on the right side of history, and occasionally engaging, but it is also a deeply problematic film that undermines instead of course-corrects.

    Maria is played by Helen Mirren, which is the film’s salvation and detriment. Mirren’s default gear is somewhere between perfection and near-perfection, and her characterisation is commanding and faultless. When Maria is first introduced, she is speaking at her sister’s funeral and Mirren immediately conveys the pride and resilience that define Maria. Maria has discovered several documents in her sister’s possession, documents concerning several Klimt painting and other valuables taken by the Nazis from their family home. One Klimt painting, depicting a woman ornately decorated with gold leaf, is of special significance to Maria for the woman in the painting was her beloved aunt, Adele Bloch-Bauer, who had lived with the Altmanns and was practically a second mother to Maria. Now hanging in Vienna’s Belvedere Palace since WWII, the work has become part of Austria’s identity and its subject regarded as the country’s “Mona Lisa.”

    Maria, however, is more concerned with personal rather than national identity. She wishes to reclaim the painting to provide justice for her family and to keep alive the memory of her aunt, whose identity was erased when the painting was taken into the Belvedere. Helping her in her crusade is one Randy Schoenberg, a struggling young lawyer who is first in it for the money, but soon finds himself reconnecting to his own roots (his family was also persecuted by the Nazis). Schoenberg is played by Ryan Reynolds which, in and of itself, is not the issue. The problem is he is called upon to act with Mirren, and the actor is simply not up to the task. Reynolds has always struggled with his performances slipping into blandness. He can be capable of delivering a fine performance – see Buried and The Voices – but he fails to do so in Woman in Gold.

    Putting aside the inherent unbelievability of Reynolds as a Jewish man, his character’s narrative arc is rendered with very little conviction. The filmmakers do a disservice to their own story by shifting the focus in the second half of the film to Randy’s dogged refusal to buckle under all the bureaucratic obstacles thrown their way. There were early indications that Woman in Gold would follow the Rocky template, but why deviate from the most compelling underdog to follow a dead ender?

    It isn’t just Reynolds who fails to elevate his game. The filmmakers fumble as well, executing the material with a heavy-handedness and all but rigging the story to ensure appropriate audience reaction. One can’t help but feel that Mirren’s briskness masks a certain impatience at having to work with those who cannot keep up with her.

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  • “Mrs. Altmann, it would seem that if your case goes forward, world diplomacy will collapse, and you will be solely responsible.”

    “Woman in Gold” is a wonderful and sometimes touching film. Not because of the topic as this was already highlighted in “The Monuments Men”, but because of the brilliant rendition Helen Mirren is showing here. A role that suits her perfectly. A distinguished elderly lady who’s a descendant of a wealthy Jewish family and who was forced to flee to the United States during Austria’s annexation with Germany. She left behind everything: family, personal things and valuable belongings that were owned by the family Altmann. The resentment towards the German ruler obviously is still as lively now as it was in the past. And despite her intention never to set foot on Austrian soil again, she still makes the overseas trip to reclaim the famous painting “Portrait of Adèle Bloch-Bauer” by Gustav Klimt, since she’s the rightful heir. That this invaluable piece of art was worth a fortune, is swept aside by her as irrelevant. In the end the painting has been sold to a renowned New York art gallery for a mere 135 million dollars. I’m sure at that moment it wasn’t irrelevant anymore.

    The film is actually twofold. Obviously there’s a less successful part and an exciting second part. The first part, and least successful, is about the court case Maria Altmann starts against the Austrian state, who consider the previous mentioned painting as a national treasure. The fact that it was stolen by the Nazis and actually ended up in their hands unlawfully, was a side issue apparently. So the first thing we are presented with, is an old fashioned courtroom drama with Ryan Reynolds as the young lawyer Randol Schönberg, grandson of the famous Austrian composer Arnold Schönberg and also descendant of a family of war refugees.

    The fascinating and interesting part of the film focuses on the past and present of the widow Altmann. A metered mixture of images of this zestful character these days and the painful memories weighing on her shoulders. These memories are displayed in old-fashioned-looking sepia-colored flashbacks. A sketch full of contrasts of the still traumatized Maria and the conditions in which she lived during the occupation. The humiliations and fear. When she gets back in Vienna after so many years, Mary’s facial expression proves that this past still weighs heavily on her.

    Helen Mirren is a kind of mixture of P. L. Travers and Queen Elizabeth. A lady behaving according to the etiquette from the upper middle class who keeps certain values and norms still alive. A stiff Victorian granny who suffers from a trauma and is seeking for justice. A kind of Miss Marple, but then still in possession of an elegant well-preserved beauty. Without any effort Mirren surpasses the young Reynold on screen. Despite his immense importance in the complex legal procedure, the character pales in comparison with the engaging, witty and sometimes tragic person performed by Mirren. Despite the fact that now and then she brings forward corny sounding quotes, she remains a credible and worthy character.

    Of course you can cite that the Austrian people are portrayed in a one-sided and caricatural way and look like an anti-Semitic nation that supports the Nazi-regime. Personally, I’m convinced that it’s pretty close to being true and that it’s more an instinctual survival tactic than that they were supporting that ideology. But that’s another discussion. Maybe the relationship between Maria Altmann and her aunt Adèle could have been worked out a bit deeper. But the acting of Mirren and the tragic images of the past create an unparalleled film filled with tragedy and justice.

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