The artwork stolen by the Nazi’s has been a popular topic as of late, especially after George Clooney’s flop, The Monuments Men. It is one of the many tragedies caused by the Nazi’s that are still felt today, and it is the prime focus of Woman in Gold, the true story of a woman who tries to reclaim a valuable portrait of her aunt that is now considered a national treasure despite it being stolen from her. With some solid performances, a fascinating story, and weighty emotional pay-offs, Woman in Gold is a well-founded film that could have been a lot worse.
Ryan Reynolds and Helen Mirren make a wonderful duo—something I’m sure nobody would have really expected. Randy Schoenberg, played by Reynolds, is unexperienced as a lawyer, but due to a family relation with Maria Altmann (Mirren) he takes up the case in order to help her get back what is rightfully hers. The two play off of each other like an odd-ball comedy, much like last year’s Philomena. Their scenes offer up both comedy and emotions as we watch them grow more invested in the case, poking fun at each other, and eventually becoming close companions. Mirren is riveting and determined. As we learn more about her past in Austria, before and during the Nazi Occupation, we come to pity her and cheer for her victory despite the numerous attempts by the Austrian government to stymie her success.
While these two take the lead, and more or less steal the show, they are supported by a decently developed supporting cast that feels partly like a means to move the plot forward, but nonetheless delivers memorable performances. Playing Pam, Randy’s wife, is Katie Holmes who must struggle with her husband’s foolhardy attempts to win this case by abandoning any means of making money. She remains the driving force behind Randy, even though at times you can feel she doubts him. Daniel Brühl, who plays the Austrian journalist Hubertus Czernin, helps our duo with the investigation into the documents and history of the situation. His development is slow, but it works out in the end.
Getting caught up in a couple of genre’s, Woman in Gold feels like a forced mix of historical-thriller and road-tripping odd-couples packaged in the story of two unlikely underdogs. A good portion of the film relies on flashbacks, which help to add to the emotional impact, but it is how the script develops over time as we learn more about the events that reveal a film that is surprisingly rich in its depth and character development.
Woman in Gold is pretty much your generic underdog story that has been adapted to a decades-long tale involving theft, war, and family. Yet, somehow, it manages to be a fresh, engaging film thanks to the delightful chemistry of Reynolds and Mirren and its almost depressing reminder that this is not the only case of stolen artwork still out there, and that many paintings still need to find their proper home.