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Movie Review: 'Woman in Gold'

By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) --  It's the portrait of a woman seeking a portrait of a woman.

Woman in Gold is the true-story account of one woman's struggle, aided by her lawyer, to restore her property and reclaim her past from the Austrian government.

(2½ stars out of 4)

Helen Mirren portrays Austrian-Jewish Holocaust refugee Maria Altmann, who engages a young lawyer, Randy Schoenberg (played by Ryan Reynolds) -- the grandson of composer and painter Arnold Schoenberg -- who is not exactly in touch with his Jewish heritage, to help her attempt to recover a painting by Gustav Klimt, one of many stolen by the Nazis when they looted the home of Altmann's wealthy Viennese family.

The particular painting that she seeks, "Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I," then hanging in the Belvedere gallery in Vienna, happens to depict a beloved aunt of hers who lived with the family until her death and was somewhat of a second mother to Maria and her sister.  And she has waited until she is in her eighties to attempt to claim that this inheritance is rightfully and legally hers.

In the meantime. however, the work has become extraordinarily valuable and is described at one point as Austria's "Mona Lisa."

portrait of adele
("Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I," by Gustav Klimt)


The David-and-Goliath court case that ensues pits one woman against a nation.  And if she were not already the definitive underdog, the bureaucratic obstacles the Austrian authorities place in her path would render her one.

British director Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn), most of whose background is in television, works from a first screenplay by actor Alexi Kaye Campbell that, as it moves from present to past and back, does a bit too much speechifying, but that trusts the emotional impact of its central story and addresses the narrative with acceptable efficiency.

Scenes of Viennese citizens essentially welcoming their Nazi occupiers and putting their anti-Semitism on casual display are shocking in a relatively understated way, but there are a few too many sinister cardboard villains for total credibility.

Curtis' supporting cast includes Elizabath McGovern and Jonathan Pryce as courtroom judges, Katie Holmes as Schoenberg's pregnant wife, Tatiana Mastany as young Maria, Max Irons as Maria's young opera-singing husband, Antje Traue as Maria's aunt, Daniel Bruhl as a helpful local journalist, Tom Schilling as a Nazi officer, and Allan Corduner as Maria's cello-playing father.

Mirren is her usual remarkably persuasive presence and Reynolds overcomes his essential miscasting just enough to get the job done.

So we'll reclaim 2½ stars out of 4 for an inspirational real-life struggle-for-justice drama.  Woman in Gold is no masterpiece, but it's at the very least a respectable tribute to one.


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