REVIEW: Woman in Gold

4 04 2015

Woman in GoldA few months ago, upon seeing the trailer for “Woman in Gold,” I made the snarky suggestion on Facebook that the film was “Philomena” meets “The Monuments Men.”  The calculation wound up being correct, though thankfully the hybrid resembles the Judi Dench charmer more than Clooney’s bomb.

Helen Mirren stars as plainspoken Maria Altmann, an aristocratic Austrian émigré turned Angeleno shop owner.  Back in the 1940s, she fled the Nazi incursion after her cultured family found themselves the target of pointed hostility from the Third Reich’s plunderers.  Maria left before they could take her pride – but not before they confiscated artwork that was rightfully hers, including a portrait by Gustav Klimt that was commissioned by her uncle.

Fast forward half a century, and that same portrait, widely hailed as a national treasure, hangs on the walls of Vienna’s Belvedere Museum.  Maria, meanwhile, hangs her head in despair after the loss of her dear sister.  On a whim, she reaches out to the down-and-out son of a family friend, Ryan Reynolds’ lawyer on the rebound Randol Schoenberg, to see if he can assist her in a restitution claim.

Neither, however, realizes the many personal and cultural nerves they will hit in their years-long quest to right a historical wrong.  Austria’s restitution began as a PR stunt but quickly became a Pandora’s box of past grievances coming back into the light.  “Not everything is about the Holocaust,” opines one upset citizen when spotting Maria after an intense session in court.  The line resonates not only given the recent explosion of anti-Semitic attitudes in Europe but also in a more global sense, where those who did not suffer from past discrimination still cannot fathom grappling with its present-day effects.

“Woman in Gold” provides a very satisfying watch, even though it is definitely far from perfect or groundbreaking.  Director Simon Curtis achieves a feat similar to the one he achieved on his feature film debut “My Week with Marilyn” by providing a consistently engaging, entertaining story with stakes worth the price of admission.  This film, though, does suffer from some less than ideal casting (Reynolds and his on-screen wife Katie Holmes) as well as some unmotivated cutting back to Maria’s backstory as a young woman in Vienna.  Still, I would not hesitate to recommend it for anyone looking for a drama that will not sap all their cognitive energy.  B2halfstars

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