“If life is a race, you beat me to the finish. But if life is a boxing match, I'm the last one standing.”
Based on true events, Woman in Gold is one of those films that ended up being far less interesting than the actual story it was trying to tell. If The Monuments Men failed to appeal to a wide audience I wonder what the producers of this film were thinking. It too centers on stolen artwork during the Second World War, but it takes us through the litigation process that Maria Altmann went through to try to regain what rightfully belonged to her family. At least The Monuments Men focused on a group of men trying to save famous artwork from being destroyed with a touch of comedy, but Woman in Gold is more of a dragged out drama with forced sentimentality. The general premise might be similar to that film, but in a way it also can be compared to Philomena considering the lead characters are played by an unlikely duo. In The Woman in Gold the pairing is between Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds. Reynolds is Randy Schoenberg, a young attorney who gets involved with a case that Maria Altmann (Mirren) presents him with. She’s a Jewish refugee with a wealthy Austrian background. When the Nazis occupied Austria she had to watch how all these valuable art pieces were taken away from her family by these soldiers. Among them was one of Gustav Klimt’s famous paintings, a portrait of her aunt known as Woman in Gold. Now almost have a century later she asks Randy to represent her and help her get the painting back which is held at an Austrian Museum. When Randy discovers the painting is worth more than one hundred million dollars, he doesn’t hesitate to help her and so their unlikely relationship takes off as does their difficult task.
The chemistry between Reynolds and Mirren is solid, but I wouldn’t say it comes close to being as charming as Coogan and Dench were in Philomena. The pacing in this film was tedious and I found most of the dramatic moments manipulative and overly sentimental. As good as an actress Mirren is, she wasn’t given strong material to work with. She makes some witty and sassy remarks during a couple of confrontation scenes with some of the Austrian diplomats, but that is about it. Reynolds gets the look and the style of the 90’s spot on, but there wasn’t much to his character. I felt like this film worked basically as a timeline where we are introduced to important events, but we never really got to know these characters or how they related with one another. Fortunately the timeline wasn’t told in chronological order, we get several flashbacks to when Maria was a child and to when she was a young woman fleeing from the Nazi officials, so at least we get some parallel action scenes. I’d say that those flashbacks were the most entertaining part of the movie. Tatiana Maslany played the young Maria Altmann and she delivers the best performance in the film. There is a great scene where she and her husband are fleeing from the officials, but that was one of the only few scenes where I felt engaged with the film. The story is a fascinating one, but one that I would’ve been better off reading about considering the film only seemed interested in telling the story rather than letting us get to know the characters.
Despite having a talented supporting cast, the screenplay by Alexi Kaye Campbell fails to give these characters any life. Take Katie Holmes for instance, who plays Randy’s wife. She is given nothing to do except play the role of the wife without any dimension whatsoever to her character. The film fails to explore these dynamics between the characters because it’s only interested in presenting the facts. Daniel Bruhl is also underused as he only seems to be in the film to remind Randy and Maria what a difficult task they are going to have despite the help he provides for them. The same can be said about the rest of the supporting cast including Max Irons, Charles Dance, and Jonathan Pryce. The film tries so hard to be about something important (mostly about being able to reconcile with the past) but Simon Curtis’s film is unfortunately so dull that it fails to do so. It doesn’t bring anything new to the familiar David versus Goliath tale and despite taking so much time to remind us what a difficult task this is going to be, the resolution seemed way too simple at the end. There are far better films that tackle the subject matter in a less manipulative way.