Woman in Gold
dir Simon Curtis
scr Alexi Kaye Campbell
prd David M Thompson, Kris Thykier
with Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds, Daniel Bruhl, Katie Holmes, Tatiana Maslany, Max Irons, Antje Traue, Allan Corduner, Tom Schilling, Charles Dance, Frances Fisher, Elizabeth McGovern, Jonathan Pryce
release US 3.Apr.15, UK 10.Apr.15
15/UK BBC 1h49
Woman in Gold
Family reunion: Mirren and Reynolds

bruhl holmes maslany

Woman in Gold

R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Woman in Gold This true story is extraordinary enough to overcome a soft-pedalled script. And it helps that Helen Mirren is on hand to invest her central character with both barbed emotion and wry humour. But everything has been sentimentalised, leaving preachy themes where there should have been earthy authenticity and sharp-edged ambiguity.

When her sister dies in 1998 Los Angeles, Maria Altmann (Mirren) finds letters that encourage her to use Austria's restitution process to regain possession of family artwork stolen by the Nazis. She hires novice family-friend lawyer Randy (Reynolds), who immediately spots a problem: the Austrian government will never release its nation's "Mona Lisa", Klimt's Woman in Gold, even if it is a commissioned portrait of Maria's beloved Aunt Adele (Traue). It's worth over $100 million after all. So Maria and Randy get help from Austrian journalist Hubertus (Bruhl) to navigate the process.

This is such a compelling series of events that the film is more than watchable; it also challenges us to consider the impact of history on the present. So even if the filmmakers flatten the themes ("Nazis bad, Jews good"), the plot takes some amazing twists and turns. It's also beautifully played, including a few extended flashbacks to war-era Vienna, where the young Maria (Maslany) and her dashing opera-star husband (Irons) witness horrific events before fleeing to America.

The magnetic Mirren brings her glinting eyes and comical timing to the role of a prickly woman who reluctantly opens Pandora's box. Her chemistry with Reynolds is enjoyable, even if he's oddly miscast and given distracting subplots with his pregnant wife (Holmes) and sarcastic boss (Dance). The reliable Bruhl is solid in a sidelined role, Corduner is a bundle of emotion as Maria's father, and the decent Schilling is in danger of being typecast as a cold-hearted SS officer (see also Suite Francais).

Even if much of the story feels simplified, there's a powerful idea in how Austria's willingness to repair past injustices means nothing if they won't do so due to their greed and pride. By fighting against Maria's claim, they are denying their complicity with the Nazis. Perhaps the real truth is that this will continue until all eyewitnesses have gone. And whether the painting was worth $100 or $100,000,000, it was stolen from Maria's family by her own government in cooperation with an invading army. And it's only a small token of restitution.

cert 125 themes, language 7.Apr.15

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