WOMAN IN GOLD: 3 STARS. “You get a lot of movie for your dollar.”
You get a lot of movie for your dollar in “Woman in Gold.” Two movies in fact.
The framing device is the true story of Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren), an Austrian Holocaust survivor who enlists the help of young lawyer Randol Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds) to help her reclaim five Gustav Klimt paintings, including one of her aunt, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I. Looted by Nazis at the outset of WWII the iconic artwork—it’s referred to as the “Mona Lisa of Austria” in the film—had hung in the state gallery for five decades. The years-long case wound its way slowly through the courts until it reached the Supreme Court of the United States and then binding arbitration by a panel of three Austrian judges.
Running parallel is the harrowing story of the Bloch-Bauer and Altmanns, rich Jewish families torn apart by the Nazi occupation of Austria. Young Maria (Tatiana Maslany) is a beautiful new bride forced to leave her mother, father and extended family and make the dangerous journey to a new life in to America to avoid the concentration camps.
It’s two thrillers, one legal, one humanistic, mixed and matched to form a whole but “Woman in Gold” isn’t strictly a movie about a lawsuit or Holocaust horror, it’s really a story about the power of memories and heritage.
Despite frequent flashbacks director Simon “My Week with Marilyn” Curtis delivers a straightforward retelling of this true story. Occasionally it feels a tad too straightforward but Mirren gives Maria a wistful, powerful spirit that provides the emotional underpinning to propel the stories forward. It is the sometimes pained, sometimes joyful looks that cross her face as she remembers her long gone family that makes the story compelling, not the legalese or Reynolds’s lawyer character. On Mirren’s face is the story, a vision of loss and anguish, but tempered with a tale of determination.
As a thriller “Woman in Gold” occasionally feels conventional but the performance of its lead actress is anything but.