The aforementioned pair are Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren) and her lawyer, Randol Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds), who fight to claim back an immensely valuable – and personally significant – piece of art which was stolen from the former’s abode during the Second World War. The painting is of her auntie Adele Bloch-Bauer, by artist Gustav Klimt, and belonged to the family before the Nazis got their hands on it, only for it to then be put up at the Belvedere gallery in Vienna. With the Austrian government now in possession, Altmann will do whatever it takes to claim back the ownership of what is rightfully hers – but knows she’s going to have to come up against her homeland in order to do so.
Though the monetary value plays a role in this case (it was estimated to be worth over 150 million dollars) – it’s by no means the paramount theme. Woman in Gold is about taking back something that was stolen, and while feeling like an intimate, minor victory for one single person – this is symbolic of a world progressing, moving away from the horrors of WW2 and doing what’s right. For Altmann this painting is worth more than any number of dollars, it’s a statement – to not let the Nazis get away with their crimes. This was also an issue tackled in The Monuments Men, but needless to say this Curtis endeavour is enriched by a poignancy the former production was severely lacking in.
Nonetheless, the use of flashbacks to Altmann’s childhood and adolescent years are somewhat superfluous, and while helping to paint the bigger picture and contextualise this narrative, they’re presented in an all too generic fashion. It’s a shame we deviate so carelessly away from the court case as a result, which is undoubtedly the most intriguing aspect to this film. We should lose the mawkish moments between Schoenberg and his wife, Pam (Katie Holmes), as this tale may just be best served as a more conventional court-room drama. Not to mention the fact the finest moments come between Mirren and Reynolds, and their unlikely friendship. Her prudish, strait-laced nature provides the film with its comical, playful edge, and Reynolds is the perfect fold.
Mirren is as excellent as always in the lead, and let’s just say, coming from a writer with German-Jewish ancestors, that she has done a remarkable job capturing her characters sensibilities. The subtle idiosyncrasies, the eccentricities – and most importantly, the immense generosity. However the actress is let down by the filmmaker’s inclination to be cliched on occasion, undermining this narrative with frustrating conventionality. It’s all rather ‘Hollywood’ – though when you see The Weinstein Company logo appear before the opening credits, you can’t say it’s a surprise.