Directed by Simon Curtis.
Starring Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds, Daniel Brühl, Katie Holmes, Tatiana Maslany and Max Irons.
Based on the true story of Maria Altmann (Mirren, The Hundred-Foot Journey), an Austrian Jewish immigrant and niece of the famous ‘Woman in Gold’ of Klimt’s painting who, with the help of Randy Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds, The Voices), began a lengthy court battle with the Austrian government to reclaim the artwork which the Nazis stole from her family.
There is a place, one can argue, for average sentimental true stories one can safely take their grandmother to. Grannies need movies too. It’s just a shame when the concept for a film lends itself to so much potential, only to peter out in a patchy narrative.
The year is 1998. Ryan Reynolds is hilariously miscast as a timid lawyer, as if sticking a pair of glasses on him makes him look shyer or smarter (hint: it does not. At all.) The grandson of the great Austrian Jewish composer Arnold Schoenberg, Randy spends the entire film feeling vaguely underachieving and sorry for himself, with a kind and supportive wife (Holmes, The Giver) stroking his tiny ego at every opportunity. Landing a job with a big firm headed by Charles Dance, he takes on the case of his mother’s friend Maria partly as a favour, and partly because if recovered, the ‘Woman in Gold’ portrait could bring in millions of dollars.
After a necessary trip to Vienna where Maria speaks in front of the Austrian Art Restitution Committee, Randy finally connects with his Jewish past when he visits the Holocaust memorial, and becomes more impassioned even than Maria herself.
Dame Mirren as Maria is the perfect combination of feisty and adorable, as always. She is constantly battling the terrible memories of having to run away from her life in Vienna, of losing her family, and of her aunt, Adele Bloch-Bauer (Antje Traue, who you might remember as Faora-Ul in Man of Steel), who was the model for Klimt’s famous painting – but it all translates to a wishy-washy, backtracking attitude which combined with the film’s frequent time skips just makes her look indecisive.
In fact, several story strands begin to explore emotional tethers which are quickly dropped, so even the film’s most moving moments feel incomplete. A surprisingly vocally endowed Max Irons sings opera and speaks fluent German in the flashbacks as Maria’s husband, while Tatiana Maslany delivers the film’s strongest performance as a younger Maria – but their tragedy is only used as a hook for Titanic-style sentimentality at the end.
Daniel Brühl (Rush)’s talent is utterly wasted here, as he is in the film for maybe 15 minutes and does very little, and Katie Holmes’s role as Reynolds’s wife borderlines on comical when she is literally giving birth while giving Reynolds sartorial tips about his Supreme Court appearance, and apologising for not being supportive enough of his decision to quit his job and pursue the crazy notion of taking the Austrian government to court.
The score by Martin Phipps (The Keeping Room) and Hans Zimmer (Interstellar) is perhaps one of the only things worth taking away from all this, with layered, impressive, and heartfelt melodies from Maria’s flashbacks in 1940s Vienna to 1998 Los Angeles.
Verdict: Don’t bother, but maybe track the score down on Spotify.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Original posted on Flickering Myth.