We live in the Golden Age of one Dame Helen Mirren and I’m not ashamed of how smitten Hollywood is with her. She could star in a film eating only toast and we’d be there to watch the crumbs fall. It is no wonder that we are captivated by her presence as Maria Altmann and sucked into her story without much knowledge other than ‘WWII – Germany’ and ‘Nazis, bad’.
Woman in Gold opens with an anxious woman being ornately depicted by famed Austrian Artist, Gustav Klimt. We zoom in to a delicate leaf of gold being handled ever so carefully. Adele, the anxious woman played by Antje Traue, the aunt of Maria Altmann, is by proxy the true star of the film. Adele’s soft sweet demeanor isn’t truly captured by Klimt, I honestly believe he was painting a gaudy hearth piece for a Sugar Baroness and not intent on capturing the true nature of his subject. This is evident in his Midas madness when painting Adele, this is a film review not an art critique.
Maria Altmann (Mirren) was an Austrian Jew who fled to America, escaping The Anschluss, leaving behind her parents, friends and life. The film is a retrospect in two fold, a glance back into the 1990s –Holy giant flip phone!- for our audience and then throughout the 1940s for our characters. Orphan Blacks Tatiana Malsany portrays the young Maria Altmann and though she doesn’t outshine Mirren herself, her German accent and overall intensity of scenes outshine Mirren’s role. I am clearly conflicted in my love of Malsany and Mirren, who wouldn’t be!?
I’m admittedly a World War II enthusiast, I wouldn’t say expert or even buff since my ability to shoot off historical facts is unfortunately limited. WWII is probably the most emulated war on the silver screen, during war time alone 313 films were made. Since I have this affinity, it’s probably obvious that all flashbacks were my most favorite scenes, that and anything shot in Austria.
Randy Schoenberg, played by Ryan Reynolds, was a failed private practice lawyer who was starting a new job at a prestigious firm. He got the call from his mother that we all dread, ‘Can you help so and so with something barely related to your field of expertise?’. Randy can’t seem to escape his failure or his well established last name. The son of an accomplished judge and grandson of a famous Austrian composer the weight of his failure is heavy, which is why Randy accepts his mother’s request to meet with family friend Maria to try and provide legal counsel. The banter between Randy (Reynolds) and Maria (Mirren) is delightfully prickly and reminds me of my old German neighbor sweet, reserved and always angry.
We find that Randy’s initial motive is money, Lawyers- am I right? However along the way he connects more with Maria and his past, ultimately vying to push on when she admits defeat (which happens a few times). Reynolds was a bit more muted than I’m used to, but it fit the role of California Jewish lawyer in the 90s quite well. Wait until he goes to the Holocaust Memorial, in my opinion his best acting all film. This of course is another wish from his mother -The guilt is strong in this one- played by Frances Fisher.
One supporting role worth mentioning was that of Hubertus Czernin played by Daniel Brühl. Czernin was a friend and ally in Altmanns quest for reparations. The most revealing and intimate moment in the film, all flashbacks were internalized by Altmann, was when Czernin, Schoenberg and Altmann seated in a lively Austrian park, awaited the final judgement.
To say the Woman in Gold was centered on 1 of 5 Klimt paintings stolen from the Altmann home is an accurate if not underwhelming description. The painting was depicted in illustrious beauty that perfectly contrasted the grimy feeling you got when Altmann and Schoenberg confront the Austrian judicial system and that awful Dreimann, good job of casting slimy Austrian/German characters.
The end of the film comes to no surprise to those who may or may not follow art reparation cases. How we get there is probably the best part, all the trudging through the Austrian judicial process and on to our own American court system. Woman in Gold presents us with tension and turmoil as often a theme in Post WWII films but I’m not as depressed by the end of this film and truly appreciate its Titanic ending, a clear nod to the 90s. As pretty as it was to view, don’t expect any Oscar nods, this film was no work of art.
– Meagan Ryerson