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Woman in Gold ••••
Starring: Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds, Daniel Brühl
Director: Simon Curtis
Screenplay: Alexi Kaye Campbell, E. Randol Schoenberg
Genre, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 109 minutes
Release Date: April 10, 2015
Scott, it time we looked at the Woman in Gold.
At first I thought we’d sea Bea Arthur and the Golden Girls here. Thank goodness we didn’t. Let’s recap.
We’re introduced to elderly Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren). She’s an Austrian who was transplanted to the United States during the second world war. As a child living in Austria, she had a favorite aunt who had no children, so she doted on young Maria. The aunt’s husband commissioned a portrait of the woman which was gilded in gold leaf. Soon after, the Nazis invaded Austria and stole all the artwork from local families. Maria was sent to America to escape the Nazis and her parents were sent to the death camps. After the war, the painting ended up in the Austrian National Museum where it was known as “The Woman in Gold” and was cherished as a national treasure.
Now an old woman in America, Maria wants the painting to be returned to her family. The timing may be right because the Austrian government is finally beginning to own up to its past complicity with Hitler and the Nazi art thieves. Maria hires an attorney, Randol Shoenberg (Ryan Reynolds), to help her find the legal means to get the Woman in Gold. At first, Shoenberg is motivated by greed, as the painting is worth millions. His motives later change to seeking justice as he and Maria discover that the Austrians are willing to put up a fight to keep the painting in Austria.
Scott, Woman in Gold is an excellent divergent buddy film. Maria and Schoenberg come together to solve this specific problem, then split up once it is solved. We’re whisked back in time to watch young Maria playing with her aunt and we watch her grow up. Witnessing her leaving her parents behind was heartbreaking. And at the end of the film, watching Maria walk through her old house and reliving the days when she was young and carefree brought tears to my eyes.
There is no peer for Helen Mirren. She plays the adult Maria perfectly. She is defiant in the beginning, pulling the young Schoenberg into her world, and then grows weary as the court cases drag on and on. It’s a wonderful and powerful performance.
Ryan Reynolds did alright as well. Known mostly for his comic acting, this was a chance for Reynolds to stretch and play a more serious role. And he shows his character growing into a man who is motivated more by what is right, than by financial reward. And while he grows, he comes to realize the importance of family and history.
I agree, Greg. Woman in Gold is a moving portrayal of two divergent buddy heroes trying to achieve justice. Frankly, I don’t understand some of the criticisms that I’ve heard about this movie, specifically, that the film is slow and plodding in spots. My attention never strayed for a minute. I wanted the Austrians to relinquish that painting, dammit, and I was thrilled that Shoenberg found a way to restore the Woman in Gold to its rightful owner.
I also have to say that Ryan Reynolds surprised me with this performance. If you’ve read my previous reviews of his work, to say that I’ve been less than impressed with him as an actor is a severe understatement. Here, Reynolds is more than up for the task, suggesting to me that he makes a far better dramatic actor than comedic one. His character is forced to undergo a transformation early in the movie, as his relentless drive to deliver justice in this film depends on his ability to see the grave injustice that is going on. Maria’s transformation is more subtle but no less important.
When looking at the heroes in this film I look for where the transformations are occurring. As you point out, Scott. Schoenberg starts out apathetic and grows interested only when he thinks there’s money to be made. But Maria’s enthusiasm and desire for justice is infectious and it transforms him. He gives up everything to get the portrait back for Maria. Even after Maria grows weary of the chase, Schoenberg marches on.
I’m not sure what transformation you see in Maria, Scott. She starts out enthusiastic about getting her painting back, and then falls into despair. But she eventually rallies and supports Schoenberg. She ends up pretty much as she started out.
I’d say that Maria developed the courage to return to Austria and face a past that had traumatized her. At first she resisted making this trip. But heroes must face their fears to prevail and Maria certainly was compelled to face hers.
Regarding the supporting cast, we have an institutional villain in the form of the Austrian government. It’s not uncommon for characters to assume the role of the “face” of the institution, and sure enough we have the legal representatives of Austria who play that “face”. The characters are cold-hearted and dislikeable, but also not terribly memorable. They do their jobs but it’s clear that this is a story that is more about Maria and Schoenberg and their journey than it is about the men in Austrian suits.
Maria’s family members in the flashback scenes do a wonderful job of pulling our heartstrings. We can’t help but be moved by the horrid treatment of Maria’s family along with the countless other oppressed Jews.
There’s also Schoenberg’s wife who offers moral support – occasionally grudgingly. Schoenberg also has an oppositional figure in his boss at the legal firm. At first he’s able to convince his boss that pursuing the portrait has merit, but once there doesn’t appear to be a financial reward, he becomes a minor villain.
I thought Woman in Gold was a thoughtful and emotional look at the injustices and horrors perpetrated by the Nazis in World War II Austria. It also points out that the Austrian government hadn’t learned from history as they continued to hold family treasures that had been wrongfully stolen from the Jews. I give Woman in Gold 4 out of 5 Reels.
Our divergent heroes of Maria and Schoenberg were reminiscent of last years Philomena. The veteran Mirren and comic Reynolds worked well together. We are witness to Mirren’s overcoming her missing inner quality of lack of courage. Schoenberg’s growth from disinterested bystander to fully committed hero was well-played. I give them 4 out of 5 Heroes.
FInally, we have a good collection of secondary cast members. The Altmann family of the 1940s was very endearing. We are invested in their lives so much so that we feel the loss at the end of the film. The oppositional characters of the Austrian museum curator and government lawyer were mere shadows of characters. I give the cast 3 out of 5 cast points.
Woman in Gold is one of the best movies of 2015. Helen Mirren turns in a memorable performance as the strong, proud surviving member of her nearly exterminated family. Ryan Reynolds proves equal to her in delivering a stellar performance as her lawyer whose creativity and tenacity save the day. Woman in Gold is poignant, historically accurate, and simply must be seen. I give this movie 4 out of 5 Reels.
Our two divergent heroes, Maria and Schoenberg, enjoy a great chemistry. They each undergo a transformation albeit in different ways. Perhaps the most significant transformation is that which our two heroes may have helped bring about in Austria. By contesting the Austrians’ decisions to retain the painting, and then by finally winning a long, highly publicized arbitration battle, I’d like to think that Maria and Schoenberg forced the Austrians to finally “own” their part in the atrocities of WW2. I give our two heroes a resounding 5 out of 5 Heroes.
The supporting cast did it’s job but without much flair or fanfare. The secondary and tertiary characters were rock solid, and for that reason I can give them a rating of 3 out of 5.