Woman in Gold, a new film starring the excellent Helen Mirren and the affable Ryan Reynolds is not out to surprise its audience. Those who might hope that Woman in Gold will provide them with a taut, international legal thriller will leave theaters disappointed. Also, those who might be looking for a gut-wrenching and probing look at a the travesties committed by the Nazis during the Holocaust will be, likewise, let down. Woman in Gold is best enjoyed for what it is: a more than competent rendering of a good and true story that has the potential to make one smile if not to inspire one to soaring heights.
Helen Mirren is, as one expects, terrific in her role as Maria Altman who, following the death of her sister, mounts a Don Quixote-esque quest to have four paintings she feels are rightly hers restored to her. These paintings by Gustav Klimt (an artist whose work The Cinnamon Girl recognized and could describe in detail right away because she’s that cool) were stolen from Maria’s family during the Nazi occupation of Austria. Maria somewhat naively decides that she would like them back.
Mirren is not given much in the way of motivation beyond this, but she makes Maria a memorable character. This is no surprise from one of the greatest actors of her generation but it does create a challenge for the film itself and the actors with whom she shares the screen.
While Woman in Gold is a solid enough movie, the overriding feeling I had a watching was wondering what Helen Mirren was doing in it. The movie plays a bit like Lifetime fare and Mirren always seems destined for Oscar consideration. She classes up any movie she’s in (RED, anyone?) but, watching Woman in Gold, I couldn’t escape the thought that she’d outclassed the entire film.
Her co-star Ryan Reynolds certainly had a hard time keeping up with her. I like Reynolds and I am looking forward to him turning in a career performance in some movie. His work in Woman in Gold doesn’t qualify. He’s good enough but, much like Mirren, the script doesn’t give him enough to work with. When Reynolds is asked to play a moment of revelation as Randy Schoenberg, he works hard at it, but the script is so inexpertly executed that the moment is not earned. The writing doesn’t given him or the audience enough to justify the moment and, as it comes at a critical juncture of the film, that’s too bad. Reynolds does his best but he is unable to overcome the deficiencies of the script while having to share the screen with Mirren. One challenge he might have had better luck scaling. Both are too much for him. Therefore he turns in a serviceable if forgettable performance.
Woman in Gold, then, turns out to be a fairly nice picture that never completely soars. The movie itself is not particularly offensive, even if actions of the Nazis (obviously terrible but placed at distance in the past) and the Austrian government (painted – pun intended – as the heavies here) are. There are no surprises in Woman in Gold and, because of that, its conclusion comes off a bit pat.
This doesn’t mean the movie is unwatchable, however. Mirren is wonderful. Reynolds is fine. Daniel Bruhl, an actor I’ve come to really enjoy, is good, too (though, again, the script doesn’t do him any favors, either – I was never clear on exactly what his purpose in the story was). The structure of the movie is serviceable and sometimes even clever in the telling with flashbacks to Maria’s former younger life which are, at times, almost interactive.
It’s all just fine and a nice way to spend two hours.
At home. This is a good one to stream in a few months for $5.00.
WOMAN IN GOLD receives THREE SHEETS OF GOLD LEAF out of a possible five.