It’s 1998. Maria Altmann (played by Helen Mirren), an older Jewish woman living in Los Angeles, loses her sister and begins reflecting on her younger years in Vienna. As a young woman, she escaped Austria just in time (in the late thirties). But much was lost to her, including a stolen painting of her aunt by Gustav Klimt which was now worth over one hundred million dollars and had been hanging in Vienna’s Belvedere museum since WWII. When Altmann hears of an art restoration project in Austria, she enlists the help of a young lawyer (Randy Schoenberg, played by Ryan Reynolds) who also had roots in Austria, to help her recover the painting. An investigative journalist (Daniel Bruehl) in Vienna assists them, but the odds of getting the painting back seem insurmountable.
I tried hard to like Woman in Gold, which was directed by Simon Curtis. There were some wonderful scenes (Mirren is always fantastic, and our friend Erich Redman had a great short scene playing a Nazi officer). Much of the acting was very good, and I enjoyed the score. But there were too many things I didn’t like. It’s not necessarily a flaw, as opposed to a matter of taste, but I didn’t like the hyper-real style of cinematography (I never do), especially during the many flashbacks, which were otherwise a highlight. I didn’t like Reynolds (I just can’t seem to appreciate him). But my biggest problem was not being able to get into the story. I couldn’t figure out what the film was supposed to be about. Was it about Altmann? Was it about the painting? Was it about the plight of Austrian Jews in the late thirties? Was it about Austria in 1998? Was it about Schoenberg, or the relationship between Altmann and Schoenberg? Too much going on without a sense of focus for me to latch onto. Maybe more suspense or a sharper edge would have made it more compelling for me.
Then there was the distraction of having so many of the American scenes filmed in London and using British actors (or American actors living in London) to play many of the smaller roles. (e.g. Charles Dance and Jonathan Pryce, both of whom I love but felt distinctly out of place).
All in all, it’s a by-the-numbers fictionalization of an important true story. Because J&L liked it more than I did, I must give Woman in Gold at least ***. My mug is up, but the stuff inside is a little flat.