Saturday, April 4, 2015

Review: Woman in Gold

Image courtesy of The Weinstein Company.
Much like last year's "The Monuments Men," Simon Curtis's "Woman in Gold" is a true story about works of art that were stolen from Jews by the Nazis during World War II. But while Clooney's film was a combat movie, "Woman" is a courtroom drama following the story of a woman who takes Austria to court in an attempt to reclaim a famous portrait taken from her family that now hangs in that country's Osterreichische Galerie Belvedere.

Helen Mirren plays Maria Altmann, who was forced to flee Austria with her husband (Max Irons), leaving her family behind and ending up in Los Angeles. The film is primarily set in 1998 when Maria sues Austria and her case makes it all the way to the Supreme Court. There are also a handful of flashbacks to the Nazis' arrival in Austria and her family being placed under house arrest.

Altmann is assisted in her efforts to take back Gustav Klimt's "Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer," a portrait of her aunt that is also known as the "Woman in Gold" and which once hung in her parents' home, by a young attorney named Randol Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds), whose grandfather was a famous composer as well as an Austrian Jew.

Similar to "The Monuments Men," Curtis's film draws a fair amount of emotion from its time, place and story about art theft. It's also the type of story to likely make you angry when you consider the lengths the Austrian government took to prevent Altmann from retrieving the paintings that were rightfully hers, but had been stolen from her family decades before.

And also much like "Monuments," the film is a good movie about the Holocaust, but not a great one. The flashbacks to Maria's youth, set against the backdrop of the rise of Nazism in Austria, are a bit more effective than the numerous courtroom sequences set in the late 1990s. And there are some plot threads - Schoenberg's family life, which include financial concerns and a pregnant Katie Holmes - that come up a bit short.

But this is the type of film where performances carry the day. Mirren is great as always and Daniel Bruhl provides some solid supporting work as a journalist helping Altmann and Schoenberg with their cause. And Reynolds' work in this film along with his performances in Atom Egoyan's recent "The Captive" and "The Voices," which wasn't altogether successful as a whole, continues to prove that he has the goods as a dramatic actor.

So, while it's certainly possible that a great film about Nazi art theft and the reparations that followed still awaits us, "Woman in Gold" is a well-made and emotionally satisfying drama with some strong performances. It's well worth seeing.

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