Gustav Klimt created a masterpiece when he painted Adele Bloch-Bauer in a now world-famous portrait with a lot of gold leaf. Most art lovers and many others with only a basic familiarity with art history will immediately recognize the ornate avant-garde painting not just for its precious metals but for its beautiful rendition of the model’s face and a stunning composition. It is a gift to the ages.
It was also a gift to Maria Altmann, Adele’s real life niece, portrayed in Simon Curtis’s film Woman in Gold by the great actress Dame Helen Mirren. She is so talented that she could be presented with a script copied straight out of a grocery list and it would make you weep and the Academy would exalt her once again.
Here, she undertakes the task of Altmann, long exiled from her native Austria and living in Los Angeles, circa the mid-1990s. The much-revered and treasured painting was stolen from her family by the Nazis decades previously but the Austrian government has decided to make restitution, at least theoretically speaking. Klimt’s creation sits widely celebrated in a national museum under false pretences.
So naturally she hires the greenest of green lawyers, a guy named Randol Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds). Together, they figure out a way to take the Austrian government to court and be held accountable for past wrongs. To call this a David and Goliath tale would be to give it short shrift. It’s more akin to David and Maria against Hitler and the Third Reich.
It’s an incredibly important story about the cultural genocide and the intrinsic value of art. This is the story that was hinted at with last year’s Monuments Men but only as a whisper. Here, the tale reaches its penultimate length as generations have passed and Altmann, then in her later years, finally finds a way to get back what is rightfully hers.
That being said, this would have been an Oscar contender if it weren’t presented as a movie of the week. Without the cast of numerous name actors, this would have been an after school special. Mirren still acts her way all up and down the block better than anyone else. Even Reynolds gets to flex his acting muscle, albeit in a scene that lasts no more than two seconds of one emotionally tumultuous scene. There, he emotes unlike anything else in the rest of his entire body of work. For two seconds only, mind, and then it’s over.
The rest of the cast – save for Katie Holmes – is fleshed out with numerous talented others easily worthy of the audience’s notice.
But in the end, it all comes across as too easy. There’s no conviction, no extraneous exposition that actually would have done so much to serve the story and the gravitas of the proceedings. This is one film that I would have preferred to be longer, even by a half-hour. Klimt, who apparently took three years to complete The Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, probably would have agreed that this movie should not have been so rushed.
Woman in Gold
Starring Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds, Daniel BrĂĽhl, Katie Holmes, Tatiana Maslany, Max Irons, Charles Dance, Elizabeth McGovern, and Jonathan Pryce
Directed by Simon Curtis
Written by Alexi Kaye Campbell
Rated PG for coarse language
Runtime: 109 minutes
Playing on Monday evening as part of the St. Albert Public Library’s Reel Mondays series. Screening starts at 7 p.m. at the Arden Theatre. Tickets are $15.Tickets are available from the customer service desk. Call the library at 780-459-1530 or visit www.sapl.ca for more information.