Woman In Gold
Cert: 12A / 109 mins / Dir. Simon Curtis / Trailer
You know when you read a human-interest type story or article, and somewhere near the bottom there'll be a line saying "negotiations have opened over the film-rights to the story", and you mentally picture an over-excited lawyer on the phone to his mum with one or both of them saying "Ooh! Perhaps you'll/I'll be played by Ryan Reynolds in the movie!" and you instantly dismiss that thought, not because the conversation wouldn't happen but because that's just not a feasible casting choice for a gentle, Sunday afternoon drama..?
Well, Woman In Gold stars Ryan Reynolds as fresh-face lawyer, in the true story of Maria Altman, a Jewish refugee who managed to flee Austria during the Second World War, and their legal campaign to reclaim Gustav Klimt's iconic Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, when documentation is unearthed revealing that the Austrian State Gallery acquired the painting in terms which voided the original intent of the owner's will.
If you think that sounds more like an earnest courtroom drama than a film about art, then you'd be partially correct. The film spends around two thirds of its running-time in the early twenty-first century, following Maria (Helen Mirren)'s legal proceedings with her lawyer, Randol Schoenberg*1, complete with research-montages full of brow-rubbing and photocopiers with green scanner-lights. The other third of the film is an ongoing flashback-thread, showing Maria's home-life in Vienna as a little girl with her aunt (Adele from the painting) and during the war as a young woman, up to and including her escape to the USA as a refugee.
I think it's fair to say that the period-pieces are far more engaging than the modern ones, and the story of the painting is far more interesting than the one of the legal battle surrounding it, even though the strands rely on each other fully. The cast in the earlier timeline were largely unknown to me (and the ones I did recognise, I recognised as 'character' actors) so it was easier to believe in that part of the story. Because as credible as they both are in this, you never forget that you're watching Helen Mirren and Ryan Reyolds. They're both 'good', but the film should really be about the painting, not the performers, and I think a slightly less starry level of casting would have helped this (although obviously the names help put bums on seats, which is the other important thing).
Woman In Gold has some stretches of absolute, undiluted brilliance (in both of its timelines); moments which make you glad you've gone to watch the film in a cinema; moments in which the massive screen concentrates and amplifies the emotion of the story and the history of the artwork. But these are punctuated by some of the most cliched and perfunctory scenes you've witnessed outside of a Channel5 made-for-TV movie. The film doggedly hangs on to its 'will the underdog succeed in winning the battle?' methodology, which - even if the viewer is unfamiliar with the story of the painting - is redundant to the point of insulting the audience. SPOILER: Yes, they win. It's a true story. People don't make films of this sort of thing unless they win. Although to be fair, people don't make films of fictional cases like this unless they win, either.
But the great moments outweigh the bad ones and make Woman In Gold well worth watching. It's certainly changed the way I'll look at the painting, and that's the important thing, i think.
With the best will in the world, probably not.
It's a sort of "£5 on DVD" type film. You might watch it more than once, but you won't watch it repeatedly.
Despite battling with its own screenplay, it does.
There isn't. Surprisingly.
Helen Mirren voiced Deep Thought in 2005's Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy film, a film which also starred Warwick 'Wicket' Davis.
*1 I wanted to say 'her lawyer and nephew' there, but I'm fairly certain he's not her nephew. They're definitely related, but in such a convoluted way that the film doesn't actually put a name on the connection. Anyway, my bad for not paying attention to that part of the exposition at the start of the film.
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
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