Woman in Gold

Directed By: Simon Curtis

Starring: Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds, Daniel Brühl, Katie Holmes, Tatiana Maslany, Max Irons, Charles Dance, Elizabeth McGovern, and Jonathan Pryce

A couple of years ago, I fumed in a series of reviews about having had enough of WWII-themed movies.  As much as I hate to admit it, I might have been wrong.  There are many facets to the Second Great War, and there might just be a few of them left untold on the big screen.  In the last couple of years, filmmakers have turned to the arts to focus on the culture that was either stolen or altogether lost at the expense of willful, genocidal malice at this pivotal point in human history.  The most prominent example of this is the disappointing George Clooney period piece The Monuments Men.  This month, we have another movie broaching the same subject with Simon Curtis's Woman in Gold.

Living in Los Angeles, Austrian-born Jew Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren) has just buried her sister.  As she begins to dig through her sister's past and inevitably through her own as a young woman (Tatiana Maslany), she reflects on the atrocities committed upon her family as the Third Reich came to power in the mid-twentieth century.  The most enduring atrocity is the theft of what has become Austria's signature work of art, a painting known as "Woman in Gold".  This painting from Gustav Klimt is an iconic portrait of Maria's late aunt Adele (Antje Traue) and was a family treasure.  With Austria now addressing art restitution laws more publicly and proactively, Maria would like to address the wrong that was done to her family.  To do so, she enlists the help of young lawyer Randol Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds), the grandson of a famous Austrian composer, the husband to a lovely wife named Pam (Katie Holmes), and the newest employee for prominent Los Angeles attorney Sherman (Charles Dance).  It’s safe to say that he will be shirking some responsibilities if he does indeed help Maria.

Woman in Gold is a charming little film that plays on the personas of its stars.  With Simon Curtis at the helm, this approach yields a mixed bag of successes.  First and foremost, we've got Helen Mirren doing her best to give a Judi Dench-like performance channeling Philomena.   We've got Ryan Reynolds giving us a rookie lawyer with a nervous disposition but a genuinely endearing charisma.  We've got Katie Holmes portraying, well, Katie Holmes.  We've even got Charles Dance portraying a rather stern figure as Sherman (even if he's no Tywin Lannister).  All in all, their performances alone are not enough to carry Woman in Gold.  There has to be something more, and Curtis just doesn’t deliver it.

Stylistically, Curtis does well, but he doesn't tap into the rich history that's begging to be recounted here.  Yes, he intersperses the past and present together quite well.  Scenes from the past are marked by pale cinematography and simpler musical selections than those of the present.  Still, everything he does is rather straightforward and characteristic of the typical stylistic flourishes of a period piece of this nature.  He doesn't really delve any deeper into highlighting how the past and present are interconnected in so many tragic yet beautiful ways.  He doesn’t really balance his duty of telling an intimate tale about the tragedy that befell Maria Altmann while simultaneously highlighting the grander atrocities that took place throughout Austria during this dark moment in history.  He doesn’t really play up the courtroom drama to illustrate the mountain of hurdles thrown at Altmann and Schoenberg.  All in all, Curtis doesn't really do this meaty story justice.  His cast is what's fueling the film, and that's just not enough.

Woman in Gold certainly could have been better.  Still, I never mind a chance to enjoy Helen Mirren working her magic on screen.  Woman in Gold gets a 0.09% rating.  Have a few gin martinis with this one.