Based on a true story, “Woman In Gold” follows Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren) and Randy Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds) as they seek to recover artwork stolen by the Nazis, including the portrait of Altmann’s aunt “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer” painted by Gustav Klimt. The problem with their plan is that the artwork is held in Vienna’s Belvedere Museum.
BBC Films seem to be working overtime considering their output this summer what with the recent “Suite Francaise” and “X + Y” and the forthcoming “Far From The Madding Crowd”, “A Little Chaos” and “Man Up”. Sitting in between them is this drama based on the events which led up to the landmark court case of the Republic of Austria v Maria Altmann.
Director Simon Curtis and writer Alexi Kaye Campbell brings together a film which is very much the sum of its parts. “Woman In Gold” is on the one hand your typical courtroom/legal drama, mixed in with a tale of the inhumanities inflicted during the Holocaust and a morality tale on the reasons why people help others – for personal gain, whether it be for professional or monetary benefit, or for humanitarian reasons.
Helen Mirren leads the cast in the role of Maria with a multi-layered performance. On the surface, Maria is a proud and defiant woman – not only to her opposition, but also to Randy right from the outset. The pride and defiance stems from the character’s fierce sense of injustice and how that injustice led to her fleeing her homeland leaving her family behind. Mirren manages to couple this with a vulnerability, particularly in the face of being asked to return to Vienna, and a sense of humour including some playful and not so playful put downs which helps the character not be self-righteous or pompous.
Given the amount of recent press that Ryan Reynolds has been receiving lately due to his future project “Deadpool” where he is portraying the eponymous “Merc With The Mouth”, this film must seem as a definite change in pace as he takes on the role of Randy Schoenberg. Reynolds gives a quiet, thoughtful performance in the role as the story follows his initial dismissal of Maria’s request for help, through a phase where his behaviour could be seen as mercenary thanks to the valuation for the painting, to an eventual altruism as he seeks to help Maria for the reasons of justice – which is most evident when he gives an impassioned speech to the art reparations committee. Reynolds manages to add humour to the role which is equally light in touch and has a boyish charm to it – an example being when he calmly and politely hands over a legal summons to the Austrian Government.
Given that Mirren and Reynolds are the main players in this film, there is a big cast of well known supporting artists to more than adequately support them. Daniel Bruhl, who portrayed Nikki Lauda in 2013’s “Rush”, and Katie Holmes are the main supports in the roles of journalist Hubertus Czernin, who helps Maria and Randy for reasons that become apparent as the film progresses, and Randy’s wife respectively.
In the flashback scenes, Tatiana Maslany (“Orphan Black”) and Max Irons lead as the younger Maria and her husband Fritz with support from Allan Corduner and Nina Kunzendorf as Maria’s parents and Henry Goodman alongside Antje Trauer (“Man Of Steel”) in the roles of Maria’s uncle and aunt (the woman who inspires the painting).
But there are well known names and faces peppered in the film in various cameos including Charles Dance, Jonathan Pryce, Elizabeth McGovern and Frances Fisher.
If people are looking for a heavy legal or morality drama, I’d have to admit that they may be disappointed. If, like me, you want to watch a film that is not only relaxing to watch after a busy week, but asks some interesting questions of its audience such as whether the people blocking Maria’s and Randy’s attempts to gain justice are as bad as the people who actually perpetrated the crimes themselves, then this could be a film worthy of your attention.