WOMAN IN GOLD – Review by Susan Granger
For many years, Gustav Klimt’s shimmering “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer” (1907) hung in Vienna’s Belvedere Museum. But viewers of this so-called “Mona Lisa of Austria” had no idea that Nazis stole the renowned painting from the estate of Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer. “Woman in Gold” is the true story of how an elderly Los Angeles dress shop owner, Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren), and her struggling, young attorney, Randol Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds), battled to retrieve what rightfully belonged to her family. Read on…
Daughter of a wealthy Jewish industrialist, Maria grew up in a cultured home, filled with art and music. But when Nazis forces took over in 1938, she was forced to flee with her opera singer husband (Max Irons). Those are horrific memories she’d rather leave behind, but when she discovers the whereabouts of her aunt’s portrait, she reluctantly decides to return to her homeland to pursue ownership.
Adapting the recollections of E. Randol Schoenberg and Maria Altmann, novice screenwriter Alexi Kaye Campbell and director Simon Curtis (“My Week With Marilyn”) somewhat heavy-handedly inter-weave flashback historical segments with a landmark legal decision.
As the refined yet tartly obdurate propelling force, Helen Mirren is incomparable. Unfortunately, blandly superficial Ryan Reynolds seems miscast as her inexperienced advocate whose grandfather was Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg.
In supporting roles, Jonathan Pryce scores as U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, while Daniel Bruhl (“Rush”) is memorable as a helpful Viennese journalist. And Tatiana Maslany (TV’s sci-fi “Orphan Black”) adroitly captures Maria’s youthful spirit and composure.
Katie Holmes appears Schoenberg’s wife, Charles Dance as his boss, and Elizabeth McGovern as a sympathetic judge. Unfortunately, McGovern is now instantly recognizable as Lady Grantham of “Downton Abbey,” which dilutes her effectiveness; director Simon Curtis is McGovern’s real-life husband.
FYI: Gustav Klimt’s portrait illustrates his elaborately complex ornamentation in the Jugendstil style. Klimt was an influential member of the Vienna Secession, a group of artists who broke away from traditional painting.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Woman in Gold” is a shrewdly compelling 7. Maria Altmann died in 2011 at age 94, and her painting is exhibited at Ronald Lauder’s Neue Galerie in Manhattan.