Woman in Gold: Film Review
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Helen Mirren, Daniel Bruhl, Katie Holmes, Tatiana Maslany
Director: Simon Curtis
There's a lot of over-egging and manipulation in Simon Curtis' latest Woman In Gold, an account of a real life underdog story and an art-restitution landmark case.
Helen Mirren, complete with occasional German accent, stars as Maria Altmann, a Jewish refugee living in America after being forced to flee there when the Nazi cloud descended.
When Altmann's sister dies, she discovers documents pertaining to Gustav Klimt's Woman in Gold painting, which was of her aunt Adele, and believes she has a claim to it along with other works stolen by the Nazis.
So, teaming up with Ryan Reynolds' nebbish lawyer Randol Schonberg, she reluctantly heads to Austria to take on the government to reclaim Austria's Mona Lisa for her family.
But, as ever, the odds are stacked against the duo as they face the might of the Austrian government and with time not on Altmann's side, she may not find the peace she desires.
The Woman In Gold painting may be adorned in the precious metal but the movie certainly doesn't glitter, thanks to a heavy-handed approach and an over-reliance on flashbacks, manipulating your every emotion and with a score that tells you what to feel at every step.
While there's some praise for Helen Mirren's dignified turn as Maria, who's imbued with a sense of indignation and righteousness, Ryan Reynolds' bumbling lawyer and a lack of any decently written supporting characters outside of the duo take some of the sheen away from this crowd-pleasing fare.
There's a distinct Philomena-esque vibe to this duo's road trip and buddy dynamic, but the screenwriters have spent all their time developing those two, that anyone outside of the main circle is little more than a dastardly caricature.
The past recreations work well in terms of look, thanks to a faded palette bringing the encroaching Nazi threat vividly to life and an impressively restrained and understated turn from Orphan Black's Tatiana Maslany as the young Maria. Maria's escape from the Nazis is tensely handled and adds some colour to the backstory that's desperately needed as the movie begins to sag in its own syrupy schmaltziness.
But having present day Maria simply gaze off into the distance and drift into too many flashbacks hampers the narrative and irritates (none more so than an awful coda that sees her relive her family by entering her own recollections) and proves Curtis' determination to over-egg the pudding for maximum sugary effect.
Mirren brings some class to Altmann, but Reynolds feels a little miscast as the underdog lawyer fighting the system and his sudden U- turn to take up the case is misjudged thanks to a bout of over-acting after attending a Holocaust monument. Holmes barely gets a look in and Bruhl provides some solid, if unspectacular, support as an Austrian journalist crusading to right the wrongs of the past. Equally, anyone opposed to Altmann and Schonberg's crusade is presented as a one-dimensional baddie, simply wallowing in bureaucracy and lacking a moustache to evilly twirl.
Woman in Gold could have done with a touch more subtlety to have really worked and hit the emotional beats this social justice story needed to without feeling so heavy-handed; instead this Woman in Gold is covered in a corny, sickly after-coat that prevents the glow from having the sheen and polish it really needed.