Many history junkies (like me) know about the time Nazis stole or claimed about 750,000 artworks from European countries including priceless paintings by Van Gogh, Degas, Vermeer, and Michelangelo at the peak of World War II! Though many paintings and other significant cultural artifacts were recovered later on, many were destroyed or auctioned off at extremely low prices. Today, there are well over 100,000 items that have not been returned to their rightful owners.
Here, with this film director Simon Curtis (My Week With Marilyn) explores the fate of one of the paintings, the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I by Austrian symbolist painter Gustav Klimt, which was seized by the Nazis from its owner, Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer. The painting, an oil and gold on canvas, ended up in Vienna’s Belvedere Palace and became a popular tourist attraction, referred to as Austria’s “Mona Lisa.” Sadly, its original title denoting its Jewish heritage was replaced with the generic “Woman in Gold.” The story follows the true seven year legal struggle Adele Bloch-Bauer’s niece, Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren), a Jewish refugee and Los Angeles shop keeper to reclaim her family’s collection of Klimt paintings from the Austrian government. She enlists the help of Randol Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds), a friend’s son, to look into the matter for her.
Randy is a young attorney who has just started a new job and whose wife (Katie Holmes) is concerned about the impact of a lengthy case on their growing family, but he becomes obsessed with Maria’s cause. They are aided in their mission by an Austrian journalist (Daniel Bruhl) who is fighting his own demons. The seven-plus year legal saga is condensed for the big screen and we follow Maria and Randol as they meet with the Austrian art reclamation committee, a federal judge (played by the director’s wife Elizabeth McGovern), the U.S. Supreme Court (Jonathan Pryce as Chief Justice), and finally a mediation committee back in Austria. But this is not really a courtroom drama, it’s a personal quest for justice and search for identity. What role does family roots and history play in determining who we are today? It’s the age old question of past vs. present, only this is seen through the eyes of a woman who has survived what most of us can only imagine. Director Simon Curtis uses startling flashbacks (with Tatiana Maslany as the younger Maria) to provide glimpses of Maria’s childhood through her marriage and subsequent escape. We get to know her family, including some scenes featuring Aunt Adele (Antje Traue), and Maria’s father and uncle (Henry Goodman & Allan Corduner). We understand this family’s place in society and just how dramatically they were impacted by the Nazi takeover.
When I watch a movie, I ask myself just one question: How entertaining is it? Of course, such a thing is always a matter of opinion and depends on an individual’s personal background, personality, tastes, preferences, interests, experiences, and so forth. As a movie goer who likes all kinds of movies and hopes these reviews will be helpful to all kinds of moviegoers, I’m as objective and open-minded as I can be. Regardless of its genre, its subject matter or its background, all I expect from a movie is to enjoy it. This attitude allows me the freedom to like movies of any and all kinds, regardless of whether others think that I’m “supposed” to like them or not. Did the movie’s comedy make me laugh, did its a drama draw me in and make me care, did it thrill me? etc. You get the point. I expect a film to entertain me – to make me feel something. But the best movies also inform, educate, enlighten and uplift. Oh, and bonus points for originality, creativity, and technical and artistic excellence. When you have the pleasure of seeing a film with all of those characteristics, it is a must see!
Helen Mirren delivers yet another exceptional performance and manages to pull off the snappy lines without an ounce of schmaltz, while also capturing the emotional turmoil Ms. Altmann endures. Ryan Reynolds is probable one of the most under rated actors and sometimes is easily written off, well thanks to some his bombs! Nevertheless, when cast in a well written role, he shines! Helen Mirren & Reynolds share a chemistry which is highly likeable and adorable. Katie Holmes doesn’t have much to do here, but is likeable in a small role. Tatiana Maslany and Max Irons have also done a great job. On the whole, Woman in Gold, just like the painting is a treasure! A great movie with an important historical message. Director Curtis and writer Alexi Kaye Campbell round off some of the rough edges and inject enough humor to prevent this from being the gut-wrenching process it probably was in real life. This approach makes the film, the story and the characters more relate able for most movie goers and it sure is quite an enjoyable look at a fascinating woman and a pretty remarkable underdog story.
Overall Rating: 9.4
Director – Simon Curtis
Starring – Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds, Daniel Brühl
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 109 minutes