Woman in Gold Review
MORE THAN JUST A PRETTY PICTURE
Behind every painting is a story” is a common saying when describing pieces of artwork. Such is the case behind the famous painting of “Adele Bloch-Bauer” (also called “The Woman in Gold”) by legendary artist Gustav Klimt. Yet, the more fascinating story is not just about Klimt or Adele, but rather Maria Altmann, Adele’s niece, and her claim to Gustav’s work. Altmann’s account has been told through various documentaries, including Stealing Klimt, Adele’s Wish, and The Rape of Europa. While these documentaries are told in a more journalistic approach, The Weinstein Company and BBC Films take a more theatrical approach with Altmann’s story with the film Woman in Gold. Does the movie paint a masterpiece or a fake portrait of real life events?
Escaping from Austria during Germany’s occupation during the 1930s, Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren) has made a life for herself with a small business in the United States. However, Maria remains troubled by her past, discovering that Gustav Klimt’s painting of her Aunt Adele (Antje Traue) was unlawfully stolen by the Nazis and has remained in Austria, becoming a crown centerpiece in the country’s works of art. Determined to bring the painting back to America out of family duty, Maria seeks help from her friend’s son Randol (Ryan Reynolds), a failed legal man with a burgeoning family and a recent redemption job position at a big time law firm. At first, Randol is reluctant in Maria’s case, believing it to be a fool’s errand, but slowly comes around as persuasive evidences come to light. Believing they have a solid case, the pair venture to Austria, embarking upon a journey of research, aided by local journalist Hubertus Czernin (Daniel Bruhl), and difficult court battles as Maria is forced to confront emotional memories of her past.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
I remember hearing about this movie a couple of months ago. I intital brushed it off, choosing to forgo the movie and picking another movie to watch and review. Personally, I’m never real knew anything about Gustav Klimt’s works (except his painting of The Kiss), so I kind of found premise of the film interesting, which drew my curiosity to rent in Woman in Gold (via ITunes). After watching it, I found that, while problems to arise, the feature tells a good story with dramatic punch to make it a good movie that (at the very least) should be viewed once or twice.
The movie is directed by Simon Curtis, who previous works include My Week with Marylyn. The story (Maria’s journey to reclaim her aunt’s portrait) is practically already made for a movie, so it’s natural that a Hollywood movie of Maria’s story would eventually come to light. Curtis approaches the story with respect and care, dosing the movie with emotional scenes past memories and tolerance / acceptance. Commendably, Curtis also shows the relationship between Maria and Randol that grows throughout the course of the movie as they are met with victories and failures in their pursuit of Klimt’s famous painting.
In telling its story fully, Woman in Gold splits its runtime between the past and present. While the present holds the actually main story of Maria’s attempt to reclaim Klimt’s painting of her aunt from the Austrian government, the secondary story of the feature (told throughout various flashbacks) showcases Maria’s life during the 30s in Austria. Orphan Black star Tatiana Maslany plays the younger version of Maria Altmann and she does an amazing job at it, acting as a viewer’s guide through Austria’s transformation during the Nazis occupation. It also helps that actor Max Irons, who plays her husband Fritz Altmann, complements her as a charm couple. To me, this narrative thread was more interesting than the actually the “present” story thread (I kind of wanted to see more). The movie seems to be missing references to a couple of things like they couple had four children or Fritz having been sent to Dachau. Despite that, this storyline proves its dramatic potency effectively, depicting the Nazis party’s public demonstrations of humiliation and degrading abuse of Austrian Jews.
There are a couple of downsides to the movie. Unfortunately, the Woman in Gold’s premise seems a bit predictable as a “based on a true story”; already guessing what was going to happen within ten minutes of the movie (and no I didn’t look up anything online). With these types of movies, it’s usually the nature of the beast, as the story’s narrative follows a familiar and formulaic path. Additionally, Curtis spends too much time with long winded speeches for Maria and Randol and courtroom battles that (while usually short) are too frequent. It also depicts that the Austrian government (and its artwork curators) as stuffy and stingy individuals. I know that movie wants to “beef” up the story for dramatic purposes, but a viewer can obvious tell that there “hardened” and “aloof” characteristic are tad fabricated for this cinematic presentation.
Of course, the star of Woman in Gold is actress Helen Mirren as the elderly version of Maria Altmann. Mirren (whose illustrious film career is too long to mention) brings her seasoned acting talents to the proceedings, giving Maria enough “old woman” zest and determination to make her likeable to viewers. And, in that regard, Mirren succeeds masterfully. It may not be define role of her career, but it’s a great addition. While Mirren is the star of the movie (on paper at least), I personally think Ryan Reynolds did a terrific job in the film. Reynolds, who mostly does comedy movies, does surprisingly well in a more serious role with his character of Randol. He brings quality to the role and sense of powerlessness as he presses onward determination to “do good” on Maria’s wish for her aunt’s portrait.
Besides Mirren and Reynolds, the rest of the cast is in more of supporting roles, sprinkled with either a handful of scenes or one prominent scene. Out of these roles, Daniel Bruhl’s gets the most screen time, allowing viewers to sympathize the young journalist Hubertus Czernin. Others roles include former Game of Thrones star Charles Dance, Downtown Abbey’s Elizabeth McGovern, Jonathan Pryce, and a flat throwaway role for actress Katie Holmes as Randol’s supportive wife (who really could’ve been expanded upon).
Woman in Gold is a crowd pleaser movie, a tailored made feature film that’s clearly defined by its true story premise and lengthy courtroom battles as well as private scenes of memories and acceptances of the past. Director Simon Curtis treats the film with enough love and care with respect of Altmann’s account, while dramatizing certain aspects to bolster this cinematic tale of true life events. It may not be the greatness “based on a true story” film to date, but the story is intriguing, the cast is great (especially the two main leads), and the movie has enough momentum to keep viewers invested from start to finish. To me, it was a good movie that I would strongly recommend as a favorable choice for rental.