Worth Its Weight In Gold
Woman in Gold
Stars: Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds, Katie Holmes, Daniel Bruhl, Titana Maslany, Max Irons, Charles Dance, Elizabeth McGovern, Jonathan Pryce, Moritz Bleibtreu, Frances Fisher and Antje Traue
Director: Simon Curtis
Scriptwriter: Alexi Kaye Campbell
Composer: Hans Zimmer
Cinematographer: Ross Emery
Rating: PG 13
Running Length: 109 minutes
“Woman in Gold” is a famous painting by the 20th century painter, Gustav Klimt (1862-1918). The real title of the painting is “Portrait of Adele Block-Bauer,” who was a famous beauty of her time. The artist used gold leaf in about 2/3 of the painting and as a result it really is worth its weight in gold. The script is based on a true incident in which Maria Altman (played by Helen Mirren) tries to get Klimt’s paintings back from the Austrian government after the art works were taken from her family home by the Nazi regime during WWII. A young lawyer, Randol Schoenberg (grandson of the composer Arnold Schoenberg 1874-1951) helped her and here, is played by a quietly persuasive Ryan Reynolds.
The story is told in present-day and in flashbacks from Maria’s childhood as a member of a wealthy, Jewish family in Vienna, to her adulthood and marriage to an opera singer, Fredrick Altman (Max Irons). Titana Maslany plays Maria as a child. We see that the family is wealthy and lives in spacious quarters in a better area of Vienna. The parents collect art works and the father plays a Strapari cello. Maria’s aunt, Adele, is a beauty with diamond jewelry, but, she has no children of her own and dotes on her nieces. Maria marries an opera singer (Frederick Altman played by Max Irons) and life is good, but the Nazi regime gets harsh. Eventually, Jews begin to leave Vienna and soon the Nazi government turns its eye on the family and their art collection. All is taken and it is then the young couple decide to leave via a harrowing escape. The “gold” painting hangs in an Austrian museum for decades supposedly a gift. Fast forward, and organizations are formed to return stolen art treasures to their rightful owners. Maria decides to investigate this through her friend’s son, Randol, a young attorney in a large firm. This piques his interest and the film follows their search for proof of the painting being stolen and then how to get it away from the museum. A needle in a haystack approach. Why all the work? The value of this painting alone, 20 years ago, was 135 million dollars, and the family had owned five of Gustav Klimt’s paintings.
Helen Mirren plays the role of Maria Altman as she played Queen Elizabeth II---friendly and commanding at the same time. Here is a woman used to taking charge and making comments. She wants her property but doesn't want to go back to Vienna after her escape, to fight for it. Ryan Reynolds plays Randol as a quiet man with a renowned last name---Schoenberg, and doesn't accept that name until he is confronted with Nazi crimes and then sees his own heritage. Daniel Bruhl is Czernin, who aides Maria and Randol in Vienna and has his own reasons. The rest of the cast is there for their part and not essential to the story of confronting one’s past and reaching for an impossible future. It is a telling moment in the film when Randol overcomes his own hesitancy and takes charge of the situation, and Reynold’s voice does it all. The lawyer’s body language will give nothing away to the other side. Mirren takes command with her walk. The well-taught, one-foot-in-front-of-the-other way girls were taught years ago, still works with determination when meeting the opposition.
All in all, “Woman in Gold” is not only a lesson in the work of a famed artist---the beginning scenes of him working with gold leaf are telling---but how possessive museums can be even with art obtained during a war. A bit of Arnold Schoenberg’s music is there, too, to show the tapestry of the past that was almost torn away. There are one too many Mirren-moments where she wants to quit, and a few whew-almost fear moments. The film does show the intricate battle of the court systems both here and abroad. This case was the tip of the iceberg, as stated in the film, and there were more to follow.
Copyright 2015 Marie Asner
For another film review of a Helen Mirren film see the following: