All That Glitters: Woman In Gold

I’m not sure why so many critics have taken aim at this movie, but it deserves a better break than it has gotten so far. Woman in Gold tells its remarkable true story with skill and sincerity. Helen Mirren is perfect in the leading role of Maria Altmann, the Austrian refugee who sues her homeland for the return of Gustav Klimt paintings the Nazis took from her family at the outset of World War Two. The “woman in gold” in his famous painting Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I isn’t just a celebrated beauty: she was Altmann’s beloved aunt.

Ryan Reynolds is not the first actor who might come to mind to play her real-life lawyer, Randy Schoenberg (grandson of composer Arnold) but he does a creditable job as the young attorney and family friend who becomes as driven and obsessed as his client—possibly even more so—in pursuing this case.

If you already know the true story, from reading about it or seeing one of several documentaries that have been produced in recent years, the film might seem contrived or even superfluous. But director Simon Curtis and first-time screenwriter, playwright Alexi Kaye Campbell, have focused their attention on what matters most in this often-complex saga: the disruption and destruction of European Jewish lives in the late 1930s, the fact that so many who fled, like Altmann, built a new existence in America but never forgot the pain of leaving, and the reality that many countries would like to ignore the inconvenient truth of Nazi looting.

Maria’s childhood in Vienna is beautifully evoked in a series of flashbacks that recall her privileged existence, right up to her wedding on the eve of the Anschluss in 1938. In the contemporary scenes, she is (fortunately) not painted as a plaster saint: she’s a sharp-witted, saucy woman whose unpredictable emotionality adds a spiky note to her lawyer’s already-challenging agenda.

Max Irons-Tatiana Maslany

Photo by Robert Viglasky – Courtesy of Weinstein Company

There are welcome and familiar faces in the supporting roles, including such fine actors as Daniel Brühl, Jonathan Pryce, Tatiana Maslany, Max Irons, Charles Dance, Katie Holmes, Antje Traue, Moritz Bleibtreu, and Allan Corduner. The production design and camerawork effortlessly take us back and forth in time as we experience Vienna in the 1930s and at the turn of the 21stcentury.

Mirren is utterly compelling in the leading role and makes the film worth seeing all by herself. Whether or not this dramatization lives up to the actual story is a debatable point, but I enjoyed Woman in Gold, and so did the audience with whom I saw the picture.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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July 2024