“Remember us”, a young Maria Altmann’s (Tatiana Maslany) father pleads of her as she prepares to flee 1940s Austria in hope of reaching America. Later, an older Maria (Helen Mirren) waxes nostalgic with Randol Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds), imparting on him a small truth that “the young need to remember”. In Simon Curtis’ retelling of a true story, Mirren plays Altmann, who seeks help from the reluctant young lawyer, Randy, to win a case against the Austrian establishment for the restitution of five paintings by Gustav Klimt, which were seized from her family by the Nazis.
Of these paintings is one that depicts Altmann’s aunt, Adele, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, or the titular Woman in Gold. Finding fault with Curtis’ Woman in Gold risks being misread as disrespectful to those who endured similar violations, but the problem is precisely the fact that this issue is not explored, or indeed remembered with any kind of nuance or depth. Unfortunately,Woman in Gold fails to poignantly and impactfully document the restitution of Nazi-looted art. It fails, because it is explicitly willing to take a worm from the proverbial can, but close it quickly thereafter.
Although Mirren expertly portrays Altmann as a headstrong-but-vulnerable woman, wounded by the past, her performance is let down by Alexi Kaye Campbell’s predicable, corny dialogue, causing viewers to squirm in their seats. Despite the film’s best efforts to develop Randy from an out-of-touch Holocaust descendant to an enlightened man, Reynold’s characterisation of the lawyer is altogether too superficial to be convincing. The audience is never given any real backstory or shown any complexities to make the character believable. The scenes between him and his one-dimensional wife (Katie Holmes) add nothing to the story, and instead seem to exist purely as a tool for exposition.
When the film returns to 1940s Austria through the medium of desaturated flashbacks, Woman in Gold is at its best. Maslany is understatedly brilliant as the young Altmann; there are some intense, beautifully shot moments. It’s a shame that this dramatic tension doesn’t come across in the contemporary courtroom scenes. They are far too short-lived and glib to have a strong effect on the audience. Interesting questions about art ownership could certainly have been raised, but regrettably are never touched upon. Maria Altmann’s story is an incredible one, but sadly Woman in Gold has been given the Weinstein stamp of conventionality.
Verdict: ⭐ ⭐
Woman in Gold is released nationwide on 10th April 2015.
Watch the trailer for Woman in Gold here: