WOMAN IN GOLD (PG-13)
Helen Mirren Strikes Gold
The year is 1998, and the story opens with the death of an elderly woman. Following the funeral, her sister discovers letters among the deceased sister's possessions, revealing failed attempts to recover an art collection, which once belonged to her family, painted by artist Gustav Klimt. Among the paintings is the world famous portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, who was Maria's aunt. The collection was seized by the Nazis in World War II, and ended up in a Vienna Museum.
Austria had just passed a restitution law as a show of good will towards Austrian's who suffered during the war. The law theoretically gives them the opportunity to reclaim their lost works of art. Maria decides to participate, and enlists the help of a puppy-faced, down-on-his-luck attorney, who also happens to be her nephew. He reluctantly agrees to look into her case as a favor to the family, but without much initial interest. However, one painting in the collection called "The Woman in Gold," is considered the 'Austrian Mona Lisa' and it is a national treasure; one that the Austrians have no intention of parting with. What ensues is a classic David versus Goliath battle that is volleyed back and forth between Austria and the United States, making international headlines before the dust settles.
Mirren is mesmerizing in the part, (no surprise there), and adorned the role with a level of panache that is uniquely hers. As Altmann, she is the finicky cat enjoying a bowl of rich creamy milk - feisty, courageous, cheeky, and vulnerable. Yet, at the heart of the story stands a woman who has suffered unthinkable loss, on a mission to right a 60-year wrong, see justice for her family, and ultimately for all Jewish sufferers of the war. I relished Mirren's portrayal of the real-life woman who lived through such an ordeal, at a time in life when most are quietly retired.
Ryan Reynolds (The Proposal) hauled out some emotional depth as Randy Schoenberg, Maria's Austrian-descent nephew, who finds that he has bitten off a steak-sized legal case, when he ordered a hamburger. Yet, he finds himself swept along on a journey that becomes as much his own, as it was Maria's. It was a treat to see Reynolds go beyond his usual care-free screen fodder into a role that required him to dive below the acting surface.
The remaining cast members were Katie Holmes (as Randy's wife), and Charles Dance (Imitation Game) as Schoenberg's law firm boss. Tatiana Maslany, (The Vow), played the young Maria in flashbacks with beauty and grace. Alan Corduner played Maria's father, and it was mini-feast to clap eyes on him again, since much of his best work is on television.
For history buffs, true story lovers and fans of Helen Mirren, this film is a well spent 2-hours. Directed by Simon Curtis (Marilyn), Woman in Gold serves its own brand of justice, requiring us to look again at the residual effects of hatred, long after the events have passed into memorial, and our responsibility to cherish their memory.