Woman in Gold – Review

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On the surface, the court-case that saw Maria Altmann come up against her home nation of Austria to claim back a painting that was stolen from her family during the Second World War, could seem like somebody fighting for monetary gain – but Simon Curtis’ drama, based on real events, goes far deeper than that. This case is not about financial reward, but taking back what somebody rightfully owns; emblematic of those who suffered at the hands of the Nazis during the war, as winning this case feels more significant than a single victory – it’s symbolic of a world moving away from the horrors that took place. This film adheres faithfully to that notion, making for a charming and affable piece.

Helen Mirren plays Altmann, who teams up with the relatively inexperienced lawyer Randol Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds), in a bid to claim back the rights to the renowned Gustav Klimt painting “The Woman in Gold” of Altmann’s auntie Adele Bloch-Bauer. The Nazis had stolen it during the war, and it now hangs up gloriously in the Belvedere gallery in Vienna, belonging to the Austrian government – but this one headstrong citizen attempts to defeat her homeland and claim back what is rightfully hers.

Woman in Gold, at it’s core, is a traditional story of the underdog, as one elderly woman locks horns with an entire nation – represented by a lawyer with minimal experience. There’s a rich emotional element to this tale, but it’s one that is perpetuated in a contrived manner by Curtis, mostly in the superfluous use of flashbacks. By delving into the past of Altmann we simply attempt to cover too much ground, and as such lose sight of the more fascinating aspect of the narrative: the court case. Instead what transpires is part war drama, part court case drama, without either taking precedence over the narrative. Of course, the background is contextually vital, but it seeks only in deviating away from the more absorbing sequences. The same can also be said for the mawkish moments at home between Schoenberg and his wife (Katie Holmes).

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Partly why such scenes feel unnecessary is because it’s always a shame to cut away from our protagonists, such is the chemistry and comedic dynamic between Reynolds and Mirren. She’s resplendent and quirky and he’s the complete opposite, working as the perfect fold for her, adding a playful edge to proceedings. Mirren is predictably incredible too, capturing the sensibilities of this generation of Jewish refugees to a tee. The subtle eccentricities, the generosity – her performance is the difference between this film failing, and being entirely watchable. She has been quoted as saying that it’s impossible to tackle roles of this ilk, but we beg to differ – she nails it.

However nailing it is not quite a descriptive term of Curtis’ efforts, as given the potential in the narrative it’s hard not to feel a little unfulfilled. It all becomes too cliched; too Hollywood. But hey, it’s better than The Monuments Men. Though to be fair, that’s rather faint praise to say the least.

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About Stefan Pape

Stefan Pape is a film critic and interviewer who spends most of his time in dark rooms, sipping on filter coffee and becoming perilously embroiled in the lives of others. He adores the work of Billy Wilder and Woody Allen, and won’t have a bad word said against Paul Giamatti.

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