FILM REVIEW by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Woman In Gold
2 out of 5

In 1998, Austria introduced new legislation to deal with the restitution of artwork stolen during the country’s annexation by Nazi Germany. The measure was mainly a public relations move, but it did open the door for dozen of claims to be made on pieces that are considered national treasures.

The most emblematic of these demands was made by Maria Altmann, an Austrian expat whose family lost five Gustav Klimt paintings, including the masterpiece “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer” (which was in fact a portrait of Maria’s aunt), to Nazi looters. Following the war, the paintings eventually became the main attraction at the Austrian State Gallery.

Woman in Gold follows Maria (Helen Mirren) and her lawyer Randol Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds) as they battle the Austrian government for ownership of the paintings. The legal face-off is combined with flashbacks of a just-married Maria watching powerlessly as the Nazis wreak havoc on her family and on the Jewish community in Vienna as a whole.

At times Woman in Gold has a paint-by-numbers (ha!) feel, but the film’s approach mostly serves the story properly. Mirren gives her character tremendous poise, while Tatiana Maslany (as the young and naïve Maria shown in the flashbacks) provides a wonderful counterpoint. Reynolds, on the other hand, draws the short straw. He’s fine as the lawyer who’s in way over his head, but his own subplot (the personal sacrifices he has to make to pursue the case) add nothing.

Director Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) brings in a few famous friends for cameos, but fails to make the story fluid enough for the audience to lose themselves in it. Woman in Gold avoids grey areas even when some discussion would have been welcome, although I imagine less domestic drama and more international law would have been an unpopular idea with the studio execs.