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Review: Woman In Gold

On paper, Simon Curtis’ Woman in Gold reads like plain old Oscar bait. Produced by Harvey Weinstein and starring Helen Mirren as an Austrian refugee who escaped the clutch of the Nazis. The film plays out like any faux-inspirational story, suffering from brass over-sentimentality and an on-the-nose script. Thankfully, Helen Mirren is there to save the day, with a beautiful performance as Maria Altmann.

Maria Altmann (Tatiana Maslany in flashbacks, Helen Mirren in present day) was born into a wealthy Jewish family. Her kin were at the top of Austria’s elite class before the Nazi occupation. Among the many priceless items in her home lies the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, a painting Gustav Klimt did of her aunt. When the Nazi’s came to Vienna, the Altmann’s were ostracized before being placed under house arrest. With a special arrangement, Maria and her fiancé Fritz (Max Irons) escaped to present day. This is told through flashbacks as the new elderly Maria Altmann is trying to recover her aunt’s famous portrait from the Belvedere Gallery in Vienna. With the help of young lawyer Randol Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds) and journalist Hubertus Czernin (Daniel Brühl), Maria sues the museum and enters a lengthy trial to reclaim what is rightfully hers.

Mirren, donning a black wig and an Austrian accent, is radiant as Maria. She underplays her overwrought character beautifully, underplaying the character where most actresses would overdo it. Reynolds is surprisingly great in the film, though the role demands little from him.

Simon Curtis directs the film in a rather simple manner, unlike the direction of his previous film My Week With Marilyn, which was glossy and ethereal. Curtis knows the talent he has with Helen Mirren, and allows her performance – rather than his direction – to carry the film. Though well-acted, the film’s flashback sequences feel a little forced and out of place. They focus too much on whether or not Maria will-or-will-not escape the Nazi’s, yet the answer to this is obvious, seeing how the elderly Maria lives in the US.

Without Mirren, Woman in Gold would likely be a disaster. Yet, the actress finds ways to make even the most artificial moments seem completely honest and watchable. Audiences will flock to the film for Mirren, and thankfully she delivers.

[star v=35]

Matt Hoffman

Matthew Hoffman is a Toronto-based cinephile who especially enjoys French films and actresses over the age of 50; including but not limited to: Isabelle Huppert, Meryl Streep, and Jacki Weaver.