I can already tell this film is going to be at the Oscars for 2015. Let’s look at the facts. Is it a biopic? Yes. Does it have big name stars in the lead roles? Yes. Is it from a nearly unknown director? Yes. Those are the three things that make you virtually get given an Oscar, so let’s look at the rest of the film.
Woman In Gold is directed by Simon Curtis and stars Helen Mirren as Maria Altmann, Ryan Reynolds as her lawyer Randol Schoenberg and Daniel Bruhl as an investigative reporter, Hubertus Czernin. The film follows Maria and Randol, as they investigate and then legally battle for a painting of Maria’s aunt, the titular Woman in Gold, stolen by Nazi’s which is currently being held in the Belvedere Gallery in Vienna.
When I first heard about Woman In Gold, I was a bit sceptical. Of course Helen Mirren is known for her “talkie” films, yet Ryan Reynolds is not known for his serious drama work. I was thinking it was going to be, to borrow another reviewer’s phrase, “Meg Ryan is a helicopter pilot” all over again. Yet Reynolds pulls off the lawyer role, in one of his strongest roles yet. Helen Mirren as well does a role she could do in her sleep, although her Austrian accent drops in and out of the film. Daniel Bruhl is his usual lovable self, although doesn’t really add anything to the overall plot in the film, he just drops in to add a few titbits of information and expertise. And it’s always nice to see Jonathan Pryce in films, even though if his role consists of barely five lines and ten seconds of action.
The story is a dual narrative, with Tatiana Maslany playing a younger Maria during the initial stages of the Austrian invasion and then cutting to present day now and again. It makes the film one of two halves though, one part historical drama and the other a sort-of courtroom drama (since we hardly spend time in the courtroom yet have many discussions between lawyers), but around two thirds into the film the historical part ends and we are firmly rooted in the courtroom, until the final few scenes transport us back to Maria’s final moments in Austria. It has a similar resemblance to Russian Ark, and I know that is the most obscure reference that could be ever made but it does draw similar styles to Alexander Sokurov’s masterpiece. (If you haven’t seen Russian Ark then please find a way to watch it, it’s a marvel of filmmaking.) The final scene is a beautiful montage sequence of Helen Mirren’s Maria walking through all of the historical Maria scenes we have previously watched, with a small addendum to one of them, which is easily the most emotional scene in the film even making me nearly shed a tear.
The film, like all other films, has some problems. At 109 minutes the film feels a bit overly long, with some pointless scenes that were added for historical accuracy. Another problem I had with the film is with its use of foul language. The BBFC at the beginning of the film labelled it a 12A for “infrequent strong language”, yet there is only one word in the entire film that could constitute that. My problem with it was that it wasn’t needed, it didn’t add anything to the scene or the film and if it wasn’t included then the film could have moved down to a PG, which I think would have been good since I believe this is a film an entire family should watch at some point. Some characters are glossed over as well, such as Maria’s husband Fritz (played by Max Irons) or Randol’s stay at home wife Pam (played by Katie Holmes). Apart from a few lines from Helen Mirren, we hardly find out about what happened to Fritz at the end of the historical part of the film and we only see Katie Holmes in conjunction with her on screen husband.
In summary, Woman In Gold takes both the historical drama and a small bit of the courtroom drama and adds them together to create a thought provoking and moving real life tale about identity and lineage.
Score: 7/10 Just like the eponymous painting, Woman in Gold is a worthy piece of cinematic art.