Director: Simon Curtis (2015)
A young lawyer and elderly woman team up to haggle over the ownership of a valuable piece of art in this dull plod of a true story.
Half courtroom drama, half Second World War thriller and all unremarkable, an uninformative script fails to inspire two mismatched leads.
Widowed US citizen Maria (Helen Mirren) is Austrian by birth and bossy, rude and talkative by nature. She spends a lot of screen-time staring into space and listening to music. She has come into documents suggesting a valuable painting of her aunt Adele may in fact belong to her.
Painted by famous artist Gustav Klimt and known as the ‘Woman In Gold’, it’s of such great importance it’s colloquially referred to Austria’s Mona Lisa, though it’s real name is ‘Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I‘. As her aunt’s will specified it’s hanging on public display in the famous Viennese Belvedere Gallery.
Maria hires the inexperienced lawyer Randol Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds). The grandson of a famous Viennese composer, Randol takes the case to further his career but after visiting the Holocaust Memorial it becomes a personal mission to secure for Maria the painting.
Together they scuttle off to Vienna to demand the paintings return from the gallery. She tries to shame the authorities into gifting her a painting worth over a hundred million dollars. Even to my inexpert legal mind it’s not a strategy likely to succeed.
Eventually Randol discovers a legal loophole and takes Maria’s claim to the US Supreme Court for permission to sue the Austrian State for the painting’s return.
In one scene a Ferris wheel is featured prominently in the Viennese background, prompting the mind to drift to this famous moment from cinema.
Randol’s argument rests on the exploitation of a technicality not sympathetic to the intention or spirit of her aunt’s original will. Although Maria has an emotional claim to the painting of her aunt, the legal ends seem to have been resolved correctly if not by the right means.
Sepia-toned flashbacks to Maria’s privileged childhood in Vienna shows us a little of a somewhat cold relationship with her aunt Adele (Antje Traue). This undermines her argument her legal case is underpinned by her love for her family.
We see far more coverage of her life as a young married woman under Nazi house arrest for being a Jew, allowing for leather-slapping SS guards to inject some menace into the film. They steal the family silver as well as the Holbein from the wall, her father’s Stradivarius cello and of course, the painting at the heart of the story.
Young Maria abandons her parents to the war and as she flees to the airport, is chased on foot and fights off armed Nazis. What a gal. I didn’t believe for a moment this is how she left Austria.
There’s too much disconnect between eras and the desperate tone of the war years clash with the gentle banter between Mirren and Reynolds.
Scenes in the Supreme Court which are played for laughs. Legal arguments are easily defeated in an uninteresting way and long lapses of time of 9, 6 and 4 months interrupt what little dramatic tension there is in court.
Whenever anyone is offered opportunity to display generosity of spirit, self-interested petulance is chosen instead.
Both leads are miscast and lack chemistry. Reynolds is static wooden pole Mirren gamely gambols about him, flirting with a mannered Austrian accent.
it’s always pleasant to see Katie Holmes on the big screen but in an inconsistently written role she’s relegated to being Randol’s stay-at-home wife. Tatiana Maslany as young Maria makes a convincing young Helen Mirren.
Poor Daniel Bruhl plays journalist Bertus Czernin. He pops up to handily explain Austrian bureaucracy and their funny ways. Peculiarly for a journalist he takes no notes, writes no stories and takes no payment, Astonishingly he’s the one buying the drinks. Mostly he serves the function of providing Reynolds someone to talk to.
We lean nothing of Klimt, his life, art or why his art is so vital to Austrian culture, relegating him to the second most famous Austrian artist in this story.