Monday, April 13, 2015

Woman in Gold

Short version: It is exactly the movie you expect from the trailers. It follows the plot, hits the emotional beats, and features some damn fine acting. It does not stray from the formula, but within the formula it does some wonderful things. I highly recommend watching it, but there is no need to rush.

This is a based-on-a-true-story underdog story involving Jews vs. Nazis and a plucky young lawyer against a vast bureaucratic machine. So, naturally, it's a Weinstein film.

If you missed the trailers, here is the synopsis: Helen Mirren plays Maria Altmann, an Austrian Jew who fled to America when the Nazis took over. When her sister dies, she finds some letters that contain a strong lead to laying legal claim to some of her family's art that was confiscated by the Austrian government. She goes to a family friend whose son, Randol Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds), is a lawyer who has been having a rough go. Together, they attempt to navigate the murky waters of international law to get restitution of, among other things, Gustav Klimt's Adele Bloch-Bauer, also known as Woman in Gold or, tellingly, "the Mona Lisa of Austria".

If you've seen many movies of this type, particularly of the Weinstein variety, then you already know how it goes. The old woman is difficult and crotchety, but means well. The young buck is cynical and selfish, until he experiences a moment of clarity and becomes a champion of justice. The Austrian government is not evil, per se, but are villains of a much more pernicious, bland, and uncaring demeanor. Everyone tells our heroes that they are foolish for tilting at windmills, but tilt they do. A few stirring speeches, a few near defeats, an unexpected ally, and a number of flashbacks later, and, spoiler alert, the underdogs win the day.

To the surprise of exactly no one, Helen Mirren turns in a marvelous performance. She is regal and commanding, but also vulnerable and tired. She projects her pain, her discomfort, her anger, and her hopes beautifully. Equally stirring is Tatiana Maslany (best known for Orphan Black) as her younger version in the flashbacks. Tatiana not only manages to depict a strong, fierce, but deeply frightened woman, but also does a wonderful job at capturing a number of Mirren's mannerisms so that the character flows through.

Ryan Reynolds was interesting. This was clearly an attempt on his part to broaden his range, and establish some credentials outside of romantic comedies and superhero flicks. He turns in a credible, if underwhelming performance. There was nothing bad in what he did, and he did have a couple very well done scenes. But for the most part, he was simply there. We also did find it interesting that, given the number of very Jewish young actors in Hollywood and particularly associated with the Weinsteins, they chose to cast the very not-Jewish Reynolds as the great-grandson of Holocaust victims.

The two great surprises in the supporting cast came from Jonathan Pryce's cameo as Chief Justice Rehnquist (really added a bit of zest to what was looking to be a dull and heavy scene) and Allan Corduner as Gustav Bloch-Bauer, Maria's father. Corduner turned in a marvelous, nuanced, and powerful performance in a role that could have been merely a cipher (see Katie Holmes' completely perfunctory role as Randol's wife). I do hope that he gets recognized for his effort here.

I do recommend seeing this film. It is well constructed, well acted, and tells a good story. However, given the lack of surprises and a general failure to capture any sweeping grandeur of Vienna, there is nothing to drive audiences to catch this in the theater. It is a wonderful movie to curl up on the couch with, allow yourself to ride the emotions, open up your awareness of the realities of other lives just a bit, and then turn off with a satisfied sigh.

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