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The key thing about our shared history is to make damn well sure that it never gets repeated, no matter how uncomfortable the idea of it all might be. It’s the key emotion at the centre of Woman In Gold and while there are a few elements of it all that come across as a little awkward and forced it works well enough as a drama with some genuine social repercussions that manages to be light and entertaining at the very same time.
Sometimes it can take a lifetime to get reunited with something that you’ve lost, almost sixty years after she was forced to flee Vienna, Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren) decides that enough is enough after finding some letters in her sisters belongings who passed away she starts her journey to reclaim what belonged to her family and was unjustly taken away by the Nazis. However, young and ambitious lawyer Randy Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds) had no idea that would include “The Lady In Gold” by Gustaf Kilmt which has become one of the more iconic paintings in the cultural history of Austria. They embark on a journey where they navigate through an Austrian bureaucracy that wants to leave the past in the past all the way to the United States Supreme Court in order to make a long overdue wrong, right.
In what will undoubtedly become your grandmother and your mothers new favorite film, Woman In Gold is a solid piece of entertainment that gets us from point A to point B in a fairly efficient but by no means flashy way with some solid performances along the way.
Director Simon Curtis sticks to his wheelhouse here as we get an historical story told with what could only be described as a genuine sense of efficiency. No fuss and no fuss the story gets us exactly where we need to be and the script by Alexi Kaye Campbell doesn’t go off on an needless moments of melodrama and balances the present day events with our protagonist Mrs. Altmann remembering the events that caused her to leave the country and the family that she loved. Shot in Vienna, LA and London on soundstages, Curtis took great care to make sure that when it mattered they were on location and making it all feel as vibrant as possible. This story isn’t about the Holocaust, the Nazi’s or about even some of the non-Jewish population who had to do some fairly horrible things in order to survive, but it’s about making sure that any wrongs that happened then get made right, in hopes that we as a society learn from our mistakes. The message in the movie is loud and clear with one of the best actresses of our times making sure it gets heard.
For the record, I am one of those people who would watch Helen Mirren read the phone book for two hours if that was the movie she was, but here as Maria Altmann she delivers a spitfire of a performance of a woman who wants to fight for what is rightfully hers, but just needs a little bit of help to do it. She walks the line between strong and fragile with absolute aplomb and it is very entertaining to watch. Ryan Reynolds is good opposite her and while a little out of his league, he’s supposed to be as their banter is great throughout and it made their on screen chemistry very palpable. Outside of our two leads the cast is loaded but with the exception of Daniel Bruhl as a sympathetic Austrian journalist and Canada’s own Tatiana Maslany as the young Maria, the likes of Katie Holmes, Charles Dance, Jonathan Pryce, Max Irons and Elizabeth McGovern just don’t have a whole lot to do.
It’s not a flashy movie, but Woman In Gold is actually a really nice one that reminds us of the difference between harping on events of the past, and making sure that we never forget them. It would have been nice if the film had managed a little more emotional wallop, but it ultimately gets the job done.