As the year comes to a close, I’m catching up on some of the films that slipped through the cracks. Woman in Gold tells the true story of Maria Altmann who escaped the Nazis in Vienna and settled in California and her attempts many decades later to reclaim a painting that belonged to her family. It was not just any painting but the extremely famous Gustav Klimt portrait of her Aunt Adele Bloch-Bauer, which the Austrian government claimed to have a legal claim to. Maria, played by the always watchable Helen Mirren, is aided in her quest by a friend’s lawyer son, Randol Schoenberg (grandson of the famous Austrian composer) played by Ryan Reynolds. The film is part legal drama and part lost family mémoire with a bit of odd couple road flick thrown in. Sadly, it is a fascinating story that doesn’t ever quite click.
Part of the problem may be the casting of Ryan Reynolds as the young lawyer. He’s too vanilla and entirely overshadowed by Mirren in every scene. But the bigger problem lies with the script. Despite the story being a great David vs Goliath thriller, the tension of the case never really takes hold. It’s a given that she’s going to get her painting back. And with the exception of one helpful and decent journalist, all the Austrians are painted with the same wicked brush. The flashbacks to Maria’s family life in Vienna before the Nazis arrive give the story some poignancy, but also feel somewhat clichéd.
The reason to see the movie is Helen Mirren, though this character feels a bit like a knock-off of her Oscar-winning The Queen role. It’s not a great film, but it is an interesting tale.