Woman in Gold
(M) Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds
While based on a fascinating true story of ‘David vs. Goliath’ proportions, Woman in Gold has been shaped into a historical drama crossed with an odd-couple comedy. This approach doesn’t entirely do justice to the subject matter but co-stars Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds are the saving grace. Together, they inject into one of warmth and fascination into this adaptation of an unbelievable true story of integrity and determination.
After the death of her sister, windowed Holocaust survivor Maria Altmann (Mirren) decides to finally track down and return her family’s stolen artwork. They were seized from their home by the Nazis before Maria fled Vienna. Among the artwork is a portrait of Maria’s aunt Adele. For Maria, this is a treasured memory of her aunt and one of the only links she has to her family and her life in Vienna. For Austria, though, it is their most famous painting — ‘Woman In Gold’ by Gustav Klimt (its original name ‘Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I’ was changed to hide its Jewish heritage).
In order to retrieve her most treasured possession, Maria enlists the help of Randy Schoenberg (Reynolds), a plucky young lawyer with something to prove after a recently failed attempt to open his own law firm. With his grandfather a famous composer, and his father a famous judge, Andy wants to prove his worth by taking on the seemingly impossible case of returning Austria’s Mona Lisa to its rightful owner. Maria and Randy face many obstacles and enemies both in Vienna and at home in Los Angeles, forcing Maria to face her terrifying past, and Randy to come to terms with his unknown future.
The biggest downside to director Simon Curtis’ Woman In Gold is its detached timeline. Throughout the film, Maria looks back to memories of her family in Vienna during the Nazi invasion. These flashbacks should be the most important and engrossing part of the film. It is a terrifying time – anti-Semitism is on the rise in Austria, and we are offered a glimpse into the life of a Jew during World War II. But these glimpses are just that – quick peeks at what could be an incredibly powerful and emotional story of Maria’s past. Understandably, the film isn’t about Maria’s Altmann’s escape from Vienna. However, the flashbacks are so scattered and brief, they lose their engulfing nature. This will leave you wishing Woman in Gold started in the past and ended in the present.
Along with the constant rewinds and fast-forwards through time, Woman In Gold has an extremely fast pace for a true story that spanned decades. Curtis seems to skip quickly over important events, and then linger upon seemingly unrelated and unimportant aspects of the story. A nagging feeling of confusion and frustration is generated by their being so many unanswered questions, breaks in timeline and lack of explanation.
In saying all this, Women In Gold is still an enjoyable watch, mostly due to the pairing of Reynolds and Mirren. Although the characters themselves come across as a bit one dimensional (the bull-to-a-red-rag young lawyer with a history of legal failures; the Holocaust survivor unable to let go of her past), Reynolds and Mirren are still a pleasure to watch. Mirren’s naturally elegant nature frames Maria Altmann well, and she takes on the character of a wealthy aristocratic Austrian with great ease. Reynolds too adds to his character — his high energy and go-getter attitude that he is renowned for, helps explain to the audience why Randy Schoenberg’s past business ventures may have failed (and perhaps why he took on a seemingly impossible case).
Together, Mirren and Reynolds triumph as the “little guy” pair, even if the entire film itself does not.
What are the bigger questions to consider from this film?
1. What does the Bible say about justice? (Proverbs 21:15)
2. What does the Bible say about friendship? (Proverbs 18:24)