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Woman In Gold – Review


Release Date: 10 April 2015 [USA]
Director: Simon Curtis
Writer: Alexi Kaye Campbell [Screenplay] - E. Randol Schoenberg - Maria Altmann [Life Story]
Cast: Helen Mirren - Ryan Reynolds - Daniel Brühl - Katie Holmes



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Posted May 10, 2015 by

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Woman In Gold Review:

With important anniversaries of the Second World War now on the horizon, it is only natural that both film and television should flood us with various reminders, documentaries, films based on true stories, films set during the period and many more, as a tribute and reminder of this terrible time. And a golden opportunity for marketers to “play” to the older generation and get slightly older “bums on seats”. This is a slightly reductionist view of Woman in Gold, but nonetheless a true one. I read a couple of reviews of the film before I got around to seeing it – and noted that it was by and large being compared to Philomena, starring Judi Dench and Steve Coogan. You don’t need to actually see the film to see the comparison. Odd couple comedy based both on age and gender roles, both lead by legendary actresses and speaking of emotionally wrenching historical tragedies.

True, Woman in Gold will not set the world of cinema alight in terms of artistic novelty, but it does bring to the forefront topics that are not discussed with quite the openness they deserve and definitely provides food for thought. And it definitely has more than one good point, all well worth discussing.

Woman in Gold centers round the true story of Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren) a woman of Austrian – Jewish descent who, having had to fled her native Vienna shortly after the Nazis came to power, had made her home in the United States. The death of her sister and a chance discovery among her belongings prompts her to start an attempt to retrieve some of the possessions seized by the Nazis from her family home. The “problem” with this plan is that these belongings mainly consist of 5 portraits by the celebrated Austrian painter Gustave Klimt, notably the painting more commonly known as Woman in Gold. All she has on her side is determination and the son of a family friend and not very experienced lawyer Randy Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds). She is taking on the Austrian government, which is very reluctant indeed to so much as start thinking about handing over into private hands what it considers a national treasure. It is the start of a prolonged legal battle and a truly amazing story of facing up to the past.

First up, credit where it is due, director Simon Curtis is done what Brits do rather well (if not best) and produced a truly beautiful period piece. The cinematography is quite stunning and indeed very befitting of the story of such an extraordinary work of art. The pre-war years are shimmering an opulent, the war years are grey and filled with dread and the modern times (well the ‘90s) are so real you could actually step right into it. The editing is by and large innocuous – as is the want with this kind of film – except for a few gems, one scene I truly enjoyed watching was – for those who have watched the film – the scene where we saw the guests at the wedding dancing. I loved the way the camera who had been very sedate and “seen and not heard” all through the film thus far seemed to join in the dancing with giddy abandon as the sounds of rhythmic clapping are slowly superimposed with the sound of marching boots… It’s enough to send a shiver down the chill of any spine… And of course the cast are another thing all together. Helen Mirren is superb as always, Ryan Reynolds does not miss a beat and with such strong actors such as Katie Holmes and Daniel Bruhl in the secondary roles, you can hardly see how the performance might fail.

Of course the film does bring to the forefront a matter not discussed as much as it may be should be in the limelight of world affairs – restitution of artworks and possessions post the Nazi era. The matter of the artworks stolen by the Nazis are by no means a new topic (films like The Monuments Men have looked at it in detail and from a different perspective) but there aren’t too many “courtroom dramas” on the matter. The combination of an iconic artwork and a very talented crew all round has made a topic that had the potential to be an emotional yet relatively forgettable tale into a film that has its own voice and makes its own mark.

But, as we have said before, this mark is definitely NOT one to be handed down in awe by generations of film studies scholars. I will be the first to say the film has a lot going for it but originality isn’t one of them. It is as similar to Philomena as people have said it is and this unfortunate / calculated timing of the two films means that the one will pretty much be in your mind as you watch the other once you have “seen” the comparison. And – far be it from me to call a true story unbelievable – but I find it admirable that pam, Randy’s wife, would be completely ok with him endangering and then leaving a well-paid job to follow what is an ultimately lucrative but at the time completely economically unsound project, especially with two young children to provide for and with her (as far as we can tell) not working. True there are hints at marital tiffs and at her watching Randy sitting forlorn and lost when he is not working on the project and maybe it was this intensity of emotion that convinced pam in real life. In the film however these are glossed over and lack depth, making her look as if she just changes her mind overnight and for no really apparent reason. I smell cut scenes. I also smell cut scenes where Daniel Bruhl is concerned, I could swear he gets cut off mid-sentence (or darn close) at one point in the film. Bruhl’s character is, again, very much hurried through – we have the potential to really stop and think about him and Bruhl is more than capable of conveying this even when he is not in the limelight, however he gets sort of blown through and forgotten – even though Randy points out they couldn’t have “done it” without him.

So… I don’t know really. I mean Woman in Gold is far from being “bad”. But it misses the mark as far as being truly good and extraordinary either. I strongly suspect that “mainstreaming” to make the film more marketable is partly responsible for this… I do wish it had used its potential and stepped out of its comfort zone a bit, because underneath it all there is the makings of a really good film…


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