No April Fool’s Day joke; Reynolds and Mirren are amazing in this based-on-truth tale about a woman who wins a court case. Against Austria. To reclaim her family’s artwork that had been stolen by Nazis. A riveting film. Grade: A-
Okay fine. If someone had told me that Ryan Reynolds and Helen Mirren would be co-starring together? I’d have said in what universe? Love some VanCityReynolds, but he’s been on a blockbuster binge of late, whereas Dame Helen knocks drama out of the park. (Though she literally killed with her comedic timing in the Red series too.)
However, Woman in Gold shows that two great but opposite tastes can definitely work beautifully together. Reynolds plays against type as Randol Schoenberg, a nebbish of an attorney, who gets roped into helping a friend of his moms (that’d be Mirren, as Maria Altmann) with some paperwork. Said paperwork is actually a series of letters from Maria’s sister, which point to the possibility that the Austrian government has their family’s artwork thanks to Nazi dirty work. As Schoenberg digs deeper, it becomes obvious to the pair that a cover-up was orchestrated so Austria could keep the paintings, which included Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, which was for a time renamed Woman in Gold, to hide the lineage of the portrait. And so begins a struggle that works its way up to the United States Supreme Court — and the courts of Austria — before Altmann and her paintings are finally reunited. (What? The real story happened in the 90s, and the theft in the 40s. Long past spoilers y’all.)
Reynolds does a brilliant job of balancing cutesy nebbish behaviors and full-on dramatic performance. This story of Nazi theft, Holocaust survivors and bureaucratic hoop-jumping would be absolutely leaden if it wasn’t for the occasional bits of daily-life humor screenwriter Alexi Kaye Campbell slips in. While everyone knows Mirren could make a list of Triscuits ingredients sound like fine art, it’s Reynolds’ way with comedic timing that’s not only elevates his character, but raises his game so he’s toe-to-toe with the Queen herself.
Tatiana Maslany as WWII-age Altmann shows amazing range…to anyone who hasn’t already loved her in Orphan Black. Fans of hers will nevertheless be blown away by her performance, which could have been heavy-handed but comes off as honest and heartbreakingly poignant. Antje Traue as Adele, Altmann’s loving and free-spirited aunt, also delivers an excellent performance.
But with all of the fine work done by the actors, it was the story itself that had me on the edge of my seat. Yes, the ending is a fait accompli. Yet it’s the getting there that drew me in. One quibble though; Schoenberg’s wife Pam (Katie Holmes) feels like an afterthought, someone shoehorned in to show that the man has A Life that is pulling at him while his quest for justice goes on.
Still, regardless of that hiccup, this is one Woman worth taking a look at.