“Woman in Gold” is a film about real people in real situations that audiences can actually identify with, and it does so with heart, intelligence, and sincerity.
Helen Mirren stars as Maria Altmann, a Jewish refugee who claims to be the rightful owner of a famous painting residing in Vienna, Austria known as ‘Woman in Gold’. Maria enlists idealistic young lawyer Randol Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds) in her attempt to find justice from those who forced her from her home and her country while taking her family’s possessions while under Nazi power. Together Maria and Randol take on Austria’s government and the clouded past that still hangs over Europe as they set out to retrieve the revered work of art and bring closure to all those who had something taken from them during the World War II.
This is one of those movies that end with the title card ‘Based on a True Story’; however, it is not a film that panders to its audience. There is drama and conviction infused in every scene that builds from a natural progression of events, meaning that there is nothing which rings false or unearned. Every moment is carefully constructed by writer Alexi Kaye Campbell and director Simon Curtis to reflect an emotional connection for Maria from her past in Austria to the present of 1998, which results in the viewer feeling the sense of betrayal, confusion, and quiet rage that exists within these characters. These are complex themes which raise difficult questions, and the filmmakers provide a concrete answer that respects both real life individuals involved and the overall bruised societal identity.
A major reason so much of this story works is because of the incredible central performance by Mirren. She always manages to subtly bring out the emotional depth of each scene whether her character is poised and removed as her turn in “The Queen” or as outspoken as Maria is here. Mirren can be humorous and fun as a blunt yet warm woman coming to terms with a tragic past, and yet she never comes across as acting. She wraps herself up in her role, and the audience has no problem seeing how she manages to bring attention to a case over sixty years old. Reynolds is just as good as a man battling his selfish inclinations, and his part in this film proves how effective he can be when given a decent project with a tight script. He has received criticism for his appearances in “Green Lantern” and “R.I.P.D.”, but his ability as an actor is in full view here and his impressive talent should not be taken for granted.
“Woman in Gold” will never beat any box-office record, but it is a moving and smart film that is made for an audience wanting to identify with a human story. This is an important work because it is well made and a modest effort that is hugely entertaining and immensely satisfying.