It’s a movie that has all the ingredients to be a blockbuster; the true story of an odd couple taking on the might of a state to right a historical wrong. Unfortunately, this week’s DVD doesn’t quite hit the mark.
Helen Mirren plays Maria Altmann, member of an Austrian Jewish family who fell victim to the tyranny of the Nazis. As a child she escaped the country, forced to leave her parents behind.
The Nazis stole the family’s art collection, including the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I – Maria’s own aunt – by Gustav Klimt.
Years later, an ageing Maria enlists the help of Ryan Reynold’s young lawyer Randol Schoenberg to get the painting back from the Austrian government who have claimed it as their own.
From the outset of the film, Mirren has fun as the eccentric and slightly cantankerous old lady who takes great pleasure in cajoling a struggling young lawyer into her service. Ryan Reynold’s character suffers by comparison.
He’s bland and boring, and not helped by a script which can’t infuse much drama into the bureaucratic courtroom struggles which play out throughout the film.
It’s in the flashbacks to Maria’s youth that director Simon Curtis finds something to get his teeth into. These darker glimpses into 1940s Vienna offer up some bleak and compelling visions of the past. However, it’s difficult to reconcile this bleak history with the cosy storytelling of the post-war legal battle. The contrast is too stark, despite Mirren’s propensity to stare off, misty-eyed, into the middle distance every once in a while.
Woman in Gold tells a remarkable story coming out of one of the 20th century’s darkest chapters. Unfortunately, the film is a disappointingly heavy-handed portrayal of this important historical episode.