It’s not often we find films about true stories that are genuinely enjoyable. Luckily for me, ‘Woman in Gold’ is one of them.
Set in Los Angeles in 1998, the film follows the quest of Maria Altmann (played superbly by Oscar winner Helen Mirren) to recover the portrait of her aunt Adele stolen by the Nazis in the 1930s. Assisting her is idealistic young lawyer Randy Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds), and together they take an entire nation to court.
After fleeing Austria in the 1930s, Maria never looks back, but following the death of her sister she considers what it means that her family’s heirlooms reside in Austrian museums. She asks a son of a family friend, Randy, to look into the case. It’s beyond Randy’s area of expertise, but Maria’s determination is infectious, and before long, Randy has jeopardised his livelihood looking for a way to succeed.
Ryan Reynolds is surprising in this role as the slightly soft and geeky Randy, but he really does a good job. We see from the start that he isn’t really interested in the case, and it’s not until he’s faced with the stark reality of what his fellow Jews faced at the hands of the Nazis that it all comes to mean anything to him. Supporting him is his wife, Pam, played by Katie Holmes. I normally can’t stand Holmes, but here she’s quite likeable (possibly because she has very little screen time). The rest of the supporting cast are great with a few excellent cameos, including Jonathon Pryce and Charles Dance (though Dance’s accent was a bit distracting). Worth special mention is Daniel Brühl as Hubertus Czernin, the investigative reporter attempting to redeem his family from their association with the Nazis.
But it’s Mirren who carries this film, with not a little help from Reynolds. We can see why the veteran actress is so well respected, and why her mantle must groan under the weight of all those accolades. I was slightly concerned going in that she may not pull off the role of a Jewish Californian from Austria, but boy, does she ever. She holds the accent well the whole way through, carries herself exactly as you would expect, and when we start to question Maria’s motives, Mirren injects just the right amount of suspicion. As her determination wavers, we can see it in every shade of her expression. It's a beautiful performance.
One of my pet hates in films is actors speaking in (badly) accented English when in reality they would be speaking another language (instead of just speaking plain English). Thankfully, ‘Woman in Gold’ avoids that mistake, and during the flashbacks to 1930s Austria the characters speak German and we read subtitles. I was so pleased that they chose to do it that way. The flashbacks are placed very well during the course of the narrative, moving things along and enriching the story nicely. The younger Maria is played by ‘Orphan Black’ actress Tatiana Maslany which is the best bit of “younger self” casting I can ever remember seeing. She’s perfect as a young Mirren, and I couldn’t fault her performance in the slightest, even during some highly emotional scenes.
As her determination wavers, we can see it in every shade of Mirren's expression. It's a beautiful performance.
The direction and production value are excellent. Simon Curtis is better known as a producer, but here we can see that he is also a rather decent director. There’s plenty to think about during ‘Woman in Gold’ and the writers knew it. This was a well-written, well-paced and well-made film, and unlike some other “true stories” I’ve seen lately, it never tries to portray its characters as heroes. They’re people, with good hearts, perhaps cloudy motivations, and above all, are emotional creatures. ‘Woman in Gold’ never shies from that, and tells an honest, thought-provoking and enjoyable story that’s well worth your time.