Directed by: Simon Curtis.
Written by: Alexi Kaye Campbell.
Starring: Helen Mirren (Maria Altmann), Ryan Reynolds (Randy Schoenberg), Daniel Brühl (Hubertus Czernin), Katie Holmes (Pam Schoenberg), Tatiana Maslany (Young Maria Altmann), Max Irons (Fritz Altmann), Charles Dance (Sherman), Antje Traue (Adele Bloch-Bauer), Elizabeth McGovern (Judge Florence Cooper), Jonathan Pryce (Chief Justice Rehnquist), Frances Fisher (Barbara Schoenberg), Moritz Bleibtreu (Gustav Klimt), Tom Schilling (Heinrich), Allan Corduner (Gustav Bloch-Bauer), Henry Goodman (Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer), Nina Kunzendorf (Therese Bloch-Bauer).
Helen Mirren is one of the great actresses currently working, so it’s always slightly sad to see her in a movie like Woman in Gold – which she seemingly is nearly every year. Last year it was The 100 Foot Journey, where the talented Mirren had to do an over-the-top French accent (but speak in English), and play the stereotypical snooty French woman, whose exterior rudeness is eventually broken down by the lovable Indian family from across the way. This year, Mirren has to do an Austrian accent - but speak in English again – although this time, the movie addresses it – as she plays a no-nonsense Austrian-Jewish woman in her 70s in the late 1990s. Many of her family died in the Holocaust, but she made her way to America. Now, she wants what is hers – the priceless art work that the Nazis stole from her family – most notably the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer by Gustav Klimt aka the Woman in Gold painting. No doubt, you know this painting – I know it, and I don’t know much about painting. It is widely considered a masterpiece – valued at over $100 million – and according to Maria Altmann, the woman Mirren plays, should belong to her – not the Austrian government. In the late 1990s, Austria, in an attempt to make themselves look good, decided to allow people to apply to have the artwork stolen from them by the Nazis returned to them. They didn’t expect what they got – but they deserved it.
The story of this is, admittedly, fairly interesting – and perhaps could have made for the basis of fine movie. Unfortunately, Woman in Gold isn’t really all that good, mainly because it tries way too hard to milk tears from the audience, and is basically a paint-by-numbers movie that hits all the beats you expect it to, and none that you don’t. It has been programmed to appeal to older audiences – which is a good thing, since they don’t get much aimed at them – but is basically the same movie we’ve seen before. Take a little Philomena, substitute the Holocaust for the abuses of the Catholic Church and voila, you got Woman in Gold.
Mirren is one of those actresses though that make anything watchable. Yes, her is a clichéd role to be sure – one that she could play in her sleep, but she doesn’t phone it in. She’s acting up a storm, and while it doesn’t do anything unexpected, it’s still fun to watch her. Ryan Reynolds is an odd choice to play her Jewish lawyer – Randy Schoenberg – who gives up everything to help her, but it’s a decent performance in its own way – even if it’s more clichéd than Mirren’s role. Daniel Bruhl is on hand as an Austrian journalist, who basically shows up to explain everything to audience – repeatedly – and then disappear. The talented Tatiana Maslany plays the younger version of Mirren’s character – in scenes set just before her family is taken away, and she flees to America – in the types of scenes that you’ve seen a thousand times before in glossy, Hollywood movies about the Holocaust. Poor Katie Holmes plays “the wife” role (to Reynolds character), and as such is given absolutely nothing to do.
Woman in Gold is a safe movie in every sense of the word. It doesn’t seek to challenge the audience in anyway, but serve them easily digestible pabulum, and send them out of the theater feeling good. Does it do that? Perhaps – but it’s hardly satisfying. Mirren is too good for movies like this – and yet it seems like all she is being offered to do. That’s just sad.