In Woman in Gold, Helen Mirren’s character, a woman forced to flee her native country by the rise of the Nazis in the time of World War II seeks to recover a painting stolen from her family by the Nazis. Only problem . . . It’s a painting by world-renowned artist Gustav Klimt and it has pride of place in the national museum of Austria. Altmann, Mirren’s character, doesn’t care; it’s a painting of an aunt lost during the war and she wants it back. Mirren finds some real heart in the character; you forget how good she is, even in an under-written part, when she wants to be and she builds this character from the ground up instead of playing her as a snappish, accented cartoon, which I’d kind of feared. Ryan Reynolds is actually quite good, as good as I’ve ever seen him be, frankly, as the harried young, yuppie lawyer who finds himself drawn into the case. There’s an amazing scene after Reynolds sees a monument to those lost in the Holocaust that is easily the best acting he’s ever done; the historic is becoming the personal. Reynolds and Mirren have chemistry and the always excellent Daniel Bruhl (who you hopefully remember as Niki Lauda in Ron Howard’s Rush) is on hand as a canny journalist who has an agenda of his own. When the film gets into the weeds with how the stresses of the case is hurting Reynolds’ home life, the film loses all interest. The less said about Katie Holmes as Reynolds’ wife, the better. But there are lengthy flashbacks to the period leading up to Altmann’s flight from Austria & the Nazis and those flashbacks just really work; the sequence of Altmann & her husband attempting to make it to the airport and onto the plane to America is as tense as it could possibly be. And, in the present, as the film tracks Altmann’s struggles with bureaucratic red tape and a frustratingly obtuse and arcane legal system in Austria & the US, the film really does get you rooting for the determined old girl to succeed, just to see those arrogant bureaucrats and politicians get their comeuppance. I didn’t anticipate this movie being as good as it was. I went and saw it with my mother and I figured she would like it and I’d find it a slog, frankly, given the trailers. Well, it isn’t a great film, but it’s a mostly successful one, with only a few cheesy or clichéd moments. Not quite gold, but I can see giving it a bronze. 3 stars.
tl;dr – gripping flashbacks to World War II and a strong, committed lead performance from Mirren elevate what could have been a clichéd and cheesy film into something quite a bit better. 3 stars.