The Bock’s Office: ‘Woman in Gold’ a solid story tarnished by awkward approach
April 23, 2015
There are plenty of pieces of history from the last century that need to be told, whether in books, film or other media. And, as important a chapter of the years past the events of "Woman in Gold" may be, its presentation still leaves something to be desired.
If you go…
"Woman in Gold," rated PG-13
Rating: 2.5 out of 4 stars
Running time: 109 minutes
Starring: Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds, Daniel Brühl and Katie Holmes.
Now playing at Wildhorse Stadium Cinemas.
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In the 1990s, Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren) has a comfortable life as the owner of a California boutique, but with the death of her sister, thoughts of her native Austria become harder to ignore, namely her escape from the country as a young woman following its occupation by the Nazis.
More than anything, the longstanding grievance of her family's estate being stolen by the regime continues to be a sore point for Maria, whose previous efforts to reclaim priceless artwork — including a portrait of her beloved aunt (Antje Traue) — that rightfully belongs to her have been fruitless.
She turns to the aid of lawyer Randol "Randy" Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds), a family friend who's not in the best position to take on an international case in the middle of a shaky career transition but agrees to help nonetheless.
Randy's assistance moves Maria's cause further than she ever could before, but in order to confront the Austrian government, they'll need to travel to Europe, a journey which will be particularly painful for the elderly woman who had sworn never to return.
Though clearly younger than the lady who was an octogenarian at the time the movie is set, Mirren does an admirable job as someone seeking a fraction of the justice due on behalf of the millions who were displaced, disgraced or even killed decades ago, an entire culture nearly destroyed with the survivors left to pick up the pieces.
The usually upbeat Reynolds also does well as the overworked attorney spending countless hours, days, months years putting everything together on his client's rather unrealistic timetable, at first doing so to avoid being nagged before gaining more of a personal desire to see it through because of his own lineage's experiences of being run off because of their Jewish heritage.
Daniel Brühl's portrayal of Austrian journalist Hubertus Czernin, who helps the pair cut through the extensive red tape put up by his country's legal system, is curiously underplayed considering his bearing on the case. Let's not even get into the thankless part of Randy's infinitely patient wife for a big name like Katie Holmes.
The family trees that were broken apart and never repaired in the years leading up to and during the Holocaust come to mind in this true story that is largely about one woman's hopes of restoring her family's good name after feeling for so long like she deserted them. Having your descendants immortalized in stunning gold flake by artist Gustav Klimt (Moritz Bleibtreu) doesn't mean as much when a museum tells you for many years that you have no rights to that work.
Filmmaker Simon Curtis's sophomore feature — following "My Week with Marilyn" — can't be faulted on its attempts to show the big picture in this regard, but there's a disturbing lack of the needed feeling of individual attachment to this courtroom drama. Alexi Kaye Campbell's debut screenplay covers a lot of happenings, including a young Maris and her husband (Tatiana Maslany, Max Irons) leaving their homeland in an almost Indiana Jones manner and, in the present-day, Randy's skillful maneuvering to put Austria on trial in front of the United States Supreme Court.
Who knew William Rehnquist (Jonathan Pryce) could be such a joker?
It all sounds impressive, but when you step back and look at it as one overpacked story, it's kind of a mess.
The poor pace and underdeveloped poignancy of "Woman in Gold" make it less rewarding of a watch than one would expect, but it is nonetheless something to see. Unlike the portrait at its center, no one's going to call it a masterpiece, but a meaningful cinematic look at an issue near to the hearts of many?
Sure, that doesn't feel like we're gilding the lily too much.