Woman in Gold (2015)
Directed by Simon Curtis
“Woman in Gold” is the type of acceptably crowd-pleasing true story A-list fodder you expect from the Weinstein Company. Starring Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds, “Woman in Gold” is big, fat, juicy award bait just waiting to be eaten up (turns out that nobody took the bait). There’s really nothing wrong with the movie. It’s tremendously acted, extremely well-paced, and backed by a magical Hans Zimmer score. It lacks in areas, but it doesn’t fail in any.
In the late 1940s, Nazis stormed the Vienna home of the well-regarded Bloch-Bauer family, stealing many valuable works of art. One of the paintings taken was a golden portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer (Antje Traue) painted by the famous Austrian symbolist Gustav Klimt. After being sold by the Nazis, the painting sat in the Belvedere Palace in Vienna…until half a century later, when Adele’s niece, Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren) hires a young Los Angeles lawyer, Randy Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds), to fight the Austrian government for custody of her family’s lost artwork. Cases like this had led to restitution in the past. But in the decades since WWII, “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I” (referred to as “The Woman in Gold”) has become a national treasure, akin to the Mona Lisa, and the Austrian government will not give her up without a lengthy fight.
Written by small-time actor Alexi Kaye Campbell, who boasts “Woman in Gold” as his first writing credit, the script never fails to push along the overarching underdog narrative. Dialogue shows how passionate Maria is about justice being served, and flashbacks showing the Nazi raid and Maria’s escape from Vienna show why she feels so strongly. It’s an emotionally stirring story, but it wouldn’t work without Mirren and Reynolds at its core. Mirren gives a moving performance, as only the Oscar-winner can. Reynolds brings his A-list charm as the reluctant Schoenberg, who failed to see the point in Maria’s struggle until their first visit to Austria. After that, he fought for almost a decade until justice was finally served. “Woman in Gold” isn’t mind-blowing. It’s not worthy of stand-up-and-cheer praise. It’s good. No more, no less. It’s an enjoyable time-travelling adventure full of the dramatic realities of history. The world is full of true stories deserving to be told. Too often, they’re not. In this case, Hollywood got it right.