Helen Mirren can really do no wrong, from her Oscar winning performance in “The Queen” to her fun and witty performance in “Calendar Girls.” And with “Woman in Gold,” she can still do no wrong. If only the screenplay was up to par with Mirren’s performance.
It’s not that I disliked “Woman in Gold,” I just thought it could have been much better. First off, the tone of the film is a mix of drama, thriller and comedy à la “Philomena” style. It never quite knows where to go. Second, the editing from present day to the past is choppy. Finally, Mirren is in good hands with a solid performance from Ryan Reynolds, but the rest of the cast (including Katie Holmes) never get to work with much.
The film is the true story of Maria Altmann (Mirren) and her story of getting back some paintings that belonged to her family, but now sit in an Austrian art museum because the Nazis’ confiscated them prior to World War II. One of the fine works of art includes a painting of her Aunt Adele, known as the “Woman in Gold” due to the gold hues of Adele’s portrait. Maria now lives in Los Angeles and recently her sister passed away. After going through some of her stuff, she found letters that could help her case in retrieving these works of art.
To help her out, Maria enlists Randy (Reynolds), a lawyer with minimum experience, to help her make a claim to the art restitution board in Vienna. Of course, Vienna is unwilling to part with the painting as it has become a national treasure to the country. Maria agrees that the painting was willingly given to the gallery by her aunt, but upon further investigation, Randy finds that the will is invalid and the painting belonged to Maria’s uncle, who paid for the artist’s fee. So Maria and Randy file a challenge, which is later denied, forcing Randy and Maria to return to the United States.
Randy doesn’t give up on the case, as he too has family heritage in Austria. He comes across an art book months later with “Woman in Gold” on the cover, which drives him to find a loophole that has to with the art restitution laws. This gives Randy enough momentum to file a claim with the US court against Austrian government. Following that, an appeal goes to the Supreme Court, where they rule in Altmann’s favor. The only bad part is Maria does not want to return to VIenna to finish the case, as it has been too painful for her. However, she gives permission to let Randy go by himself to argue the case, as he has given his time, job and money to this case.
Ryan Reynolds does a very solid job in this performance, providing some gusto and humor. However, he is overshadowed by the great Helen Mirren. It’s as if she has stepped into her elegance of Queen Elizabeth again, this time with a little bit more bite. It’s not her most noteworthy performance, but it’s still very good.
As for the supporting cast, Katie Holmes gets the shaft in a minimal role as Randy’s wife. She is underused and frankly not needed in the story. The whole kids/wife storyline to show Randy’s struggle just doesn’t quite get the lift that it needs. There is no tension to be felt.
Director Simon Curtis (“My Week with Marilyn) is a solid director, but he needs to work on finding better screenplays and editors. The screenplay from Alexi Kaye Campbell covers too many tones in one film, and it doesn’t work. The flashback scenes seem poorly placed, in a random and uninteresting way.
“Woman in Gold” is only worth a view thanks to the excellent Helen Mirren and strong Ryan Reynolds. If only the screenplay and editing could have been better. This could have turned out to be a winning film, but it settles for mediocre. Rated PG-13.