Review: ‘Woman in Gold’ Intricately Weaves History with Present Day

Nora Dominick ‘17/ Emertainment Monthly Assistant Stage Editor
Movies based on real-life events seem to be a common trend this year. With this years Academy Awards recognizing films such as The Imitation Game, Selma, and Wild, taking actual events and transforming them into movies is a common trend that seems to be here to stay. Woman in Gold continues this progression by taking the story of one woman’s journey to retrieve her family’s precious artwork that was taken by the Nazis.
Woman in Gold tells the story of Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren) and her journey to seek justice for what happened to her family during World War II. Sixty years after she had to flee Vienna during World War II, Maria seeks the help of an inexperienced but fearless young lawyer Randy Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds) to help retrieve her family’s stolen artwork. Among the artwork stolen by the Nazi’s, is Gustav Klimt’s famous painting Portrait of Adele Block-Bauer I. Randy and Maria embark on a major battle with the Austrian government and ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court to reclaim what is rightfully hers. Woman in Gold weaves together scenes of the past and present, as Maria confronts the difficult truths of the past along the way.

Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds in Woman in Gold Photo Credit: The Weinstein Company
Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds in Woman in Gold Photo Credit: The Weinstein Company
Director Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) takes on a cast filled with extremely talented actors as he tells this true story. The film itself isn’t anything viewers haven’t seen before. An older woman builds an unlikely friendship with a spunky younger man and the two discover more about each other and themselves. The concept isn’t revolutionary, and the story could really use more of a plot arc. The main conflict of the film is obviously Maria and Randy’s struggle to get the painting back; however, the smaller conflicts that arise along the way almost get swept under the rug. They are resolved very quickly and almost don’t make an impact on the overall story.
Mirren does what she does best in Woman in Gold. Her performance isn’t anything spectacular, but she does an excellent job at providing some comedic humor throughout the film. Her ability to go from moments of sheer hopelessness, like when she is traveling back to Austria, to comedic relief is astounding. Mirren does a great job at showing the struggle of wanting to get justice but becoming tired of fighting. Reynolds also does an impeccable job in Woman in Gold. Unlike some of his other roles, Reynolds exceeds expectations with his portrayal of a man who’s discovering more about his devastating heritage. He has some moments of complete and utter devastation and Reynolds shows it perfectly. His shining moments come when he visits the Holocaust Memorial in Austria and completely breaks into to tears. Reynolds surprises us in this role but similar to Mirren, there is nothing exemplary that makes this role stand out amongst his others.
The most interesting parts of Woman in Gold are the flashback sequences. As Maria continues this harrowing journey to retrieve her family’s stolen artwork, she continuously flashes back sixty years earlier to her family and their lavish lifestyle. The flashbacks are very interesting and at times feel like they might make a better movie on their own. They start with Maria as a young girl witnessing Klimt paint her Aunt Adele (Antje Traue) for the painting in question, Portrait of Adele Block-Bauer I. The sequences then take viewers to Maria’s wedding and her eventual escape from Austria during World War II. One of the refreshing aspects about these scenes were that they were done entirely in German with English subtitles. A lot of times, flashbacks to other countries are still done in English; however, Woman in Gold took the approach to make them as authentic as possible. This was refreshing to see and added a layer of realism to the film.
Max Irons and Tatiana Maslany in Woman in Gold Photo Credit: The Weinstein Company
Max Irons and Tatiana Maslany in Woman in Gold Photo Credit: The Weinstein Company
Out of all the incredible actors in Woman in Gold the one that deserves the most recognition is Tatiana Maslany and her portrayal of young Maria Altmann. Maslany is best known for her incredible, award-worthy work in the BBC America TV series, Orphan Black. She has effortlessly transitioned into yet another character in Woman in Gold. Maslany is fluent in German and brings out her real-life heritage with this role. Her entire performance is done in German and that isn’t even the most impressive part. Even in German, Maslany manages to make audiences shed a tear. The realism she brings to the role allows audiences to know how much Maria Altmann has lost in her life. Maslany’s stand out moment comes when she must say goodbye to her parents before fleeing the Nazi’s. This is the only time she speaks English throughout the entire movie. Her performance helps elevate the present-day storyline.
Woman in Gold intricately weaves together the present and the past into a telling story. Although there is nothing spectacular about the storyline, the manner in which it’s presented helps elevate the movie. Mirren and Reynolds play off of each other extremely well and do an impeccable job with the work they are given. Maslany steals the film through the flashbacks and leaves fans wanting this movie to be remade with solely the flashbacks. Woman in Gold is another true, historical story that helps open our eyes to the injustices in this world.
Overall Grade: B

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