CAPSULE: At the beginning of WWII Maria Altman's family had been torn apart and looted by the Nazis when they seized control of Austria. Among what was stolen from the family was a painting of Maria's aunt by Gustav Klimt. The new Austrian government confiscated it at the end of the war. In the 1990s Altman tries to get the painting restored to her family, but the government of Austria refuses her claim. This could be an interesting conflict but somehow the drama is never really as stirring as it needed to be. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10.
WOMAN IN GOLD refers to a painting of the same name by Gustav Klimt that was given to Maria Altman's aunt by the artist. The painting was taken by force by the Nazis and after the war taken from the Nazis by the Austrian government. The aunt did not survive the war but her niece made it to America. Now getting elderly Maria Altman wants to reclaim the painting for the family who originally owned it.
Helen Mirren stars as Maria Altman who tried to reclaim "Woman in Gold" for her family. The film follows two story threads. One thread is the story of Altman and her relation to her family in the final weeks before the family is ripped apart by the Nazis. The other thread covers Altman's efforts to reclaim Klimt's painting of her aunt, now considered an iconic national treasure of Austria in spite of its being stolen property. Representing Altman is Randy Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds), a lawyer with a distinguished family history. His grandfather was composer Arnold Schoenberg. The film depicts the monumental Kafka-esque frustration of the task of getting the Austrian government to admit that the country really did not have a right to own a stolen painting. Meanwhile Altman struggles with the philosophical issue of whether the painting should be the property of the Austrian nation and people, or whether a single family has the right to the beloved painting.
The story should be inspiring but somehow the drama just fails to crystallize. The plot, while based on true events, is just overly familiar. Most people with any interest at all will have heard of similar cases and the ones that get publicized turn out much the same way. Most viewers will already know how the efforts turned out. Many may have actually followed this case at the time the case was being tried. But then, viewers may also know the outcome of the BRIDGE OF SPIES spy incident, but that was a better films because it offered more suspense and more interesting settings. The characters in this film were bland. Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds star with several familiar actors in supporting roles. Jonathan Pryce, Elizabeth McGovern, Charles Dance, and Katie Holmes are among the featured players.
The story is directed by Simon Curtis. Alexi Kaye Campbell wrote the screenplay based on the memoirs of Maria Altman and Randy Schoenberg. Perhaps the film has problems in the casting. This should be a story to ignite the anger of the audience. Helen Mirren is too reserved to do that and Ryan Reynolds is just plain wooden. It may be a realistic performance, but it was not the performance this film needed. And all through the story one sees that at the end there will either be a tremendous loss to Altman's family or to the Austrian people who have adopted the Klimt painting. It would be difficult to decide this moral issue in any case and in the end we are just told who won without knowing really how. The film is not entirely satisfying where it should have been riveting.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2404425/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/woman_in_gold/
[Note: The original title of the painting was "Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I". The title change was done by the Nazis in order to obscure the fact that the woman in it was Jewish.]
Mark R. Leeper Copyright 2015 Mark R. Leeper