Woman in Gold is getting mixed reviews. Once again I am going to disagree with the critics and Rotten Tomatoes users. I completely enjoyed this film. Even though I knew from the start how it would turn out, I was enthralled by the events and the telling. There was tension and excitement around all of it. When it was over, I felt emotionally wrung out.
Let’s back up a bit and get some of the facts out of the way. The film is based on a true story. Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren) was an elderly Jewish refugee from Austria who lived in Los Angeles. With her broke young lawyer Randol Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds), another Jew with an Austrian lineage, she fought the government of Austria for almost a decade to reclaim Gustav Klimt’s painting of her aunt, “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I.” The painting was taken from her family by the Nazis in Vienna just prior to World War II. Altmann and Schoenberg took the battle all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States and won. Maria Altmann sold the painting to the Neue Gallery in New York before her death in 2011 with the stipulation that it would always be on display.
The story is told with many flashbacks. Altmann’s memories of her childhood in Austria with her family and her interactions with her aunt were lovely. Her wedding was a glittering social affair which many artists, musicians and luminaries attended. The flashbacks of the Nazi’s arrival in Vienna were frightening. Her escape with her husband was exciting and terrifying. The 20-something Altmann was played by Tatiana Maslany, with Max Irons playing her husband.
In Tatiana Maslany will be Young Helen Mirren, I wrote about how similar the facial features of Helen Mirren and Tatiana Maslany are. In the film, Tatiana Maslany was the mirror image of Helen Mirren. The resemblance was a perfect illusion with Maslany expertly capturing the body movements and facial expressions of Mirren.
The woman playing the aunt, Antje Traue, was also very well chosen to closely resemble the woman in the painting.
The real story belongs to the elderly Maria Altmann with her unyielding determination to get back the painting of her aunt in spite of all the horrible memories she had to face to return to Vienna. Helen Mirren was spectacular in this part. Simply spectacular.
Another outstanding performance in the film belongs to Ryan Reynolds. He played a young lawyer who was failing at life and at supporting his wife (Katie Holmes) and child. His grandfather and father were famous – his grandfather revered in Austria as a composer – but at the start of the story all he could think about were the millions of dollars the painting was worth. As he visited Austria and learned more about his heritage he went through changes that Ryan Reynolds did a terrific job portraying.
The film was beautiful in many ways. The parts filmed in Vienna were stunning, although the scene of the Nazis marching into the city looked like poorly done CGI. The other scenes involving Nazis felt more real, especially the chase scenes when Maria and her husband were trying to get out of the country.
It was a long film, almost 2 hours. Every moment was filled with tension and interest and wonderful acting. Phooey on the critics who don’t appreciate this film. I’m giving it all the stars there are to give.
Woman in Gold Images © 2014 The Weinstein Company