By Laurie Coker
Taking a softer approach to a film about the Nazi occupation of Austria can be daunting, but Simon Curtis creates a palatable, audience pleasing, recount of the case of Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren), an elderly Jewish woman living in Los Angeles who has claim to one of artist Gustav Klimt’s most famous paintings entitled Woman in Gold. She, along with her inexperienced lawyer Randol “Randy” Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds) engages in a lengthy legal battle with Austria for its return. Curtis works well to balances the atrocities of war with the modest, yet compelling tale of Altmann’s battle to the recover family painting of her beloved aunt.
Mirren and Reynolds pair well in director Curtis’ film Woman in Gold. Curtis takes a light-handed approach to one elderly woman’s plight to retrieve her families’ art taken during Nazi occupation in Vienna. They feel and look comfortable together, with a natural chemistry, even though Reynold’s Randy, at first at least, is totally uneasy in his role as council for Altmann. Reynold’s morphs here from sexy leading man to awkward, upstart lawyer and debt-ridden father. He along with Mirren brings richness and depth to the characters and Curtis brings vivid color to Altmann’s story – she accomplishes strong, torn, troubled and witty flawlessly and it’s wonderful to watch the pair interact.
Using beautifully realized flashbacks, Curtis transports us to Maria’s memories of her family, good and bad, and then he smoothlessly delivers us to the 1990s when her battle against people determined to keep Klimt’s painting in a Vienna museum begins. He tackles history, international law and justice, and he will find critics, but there are already documentaries about Maria’s story and this “based on a true story” fictionalization is just that. It is entertaining and informative, but I doubt Curtis intends for his audience to leave education on any of the three. Her story covers seven plus years of legal battles and waiting, so we can expect full coverage anyway.
Altmann’s story is worthy of attention and Woman in Gold will please audiences, if not some critics. Its costuming is impeccable and stunning in each time period and its imagery and sets, too, are fantastic – vibrant, gorgeous, meticulous and entertaining. Reynolds and Mirren, too, make it worth the trip to the theatre and I am placing a B+ in my grade book.