Saturday, May 2, 2015

Woman in Gold (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Woman in Gold

Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) directs this blandly-told historic tale about a woman who wishes to recover a masterpiece  that the Nazis (and by extension the Austrian government ) has stolen from her.

Dress shop owner Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren) is obsessed with a world famous portrait of her Aunt Adele painted by Gustav Klimt. The painting is a delicious vision. To many it is known as The Woman in Gold. Oriental in style, yet oddly space age, the iconic painting puts me in mind of a voluptuous vampire fossilized in candy. Coincidentally, the man who commissioned the painting was the Czech sugar magnate, Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer.

Mrs. Altmann is driven by the memory of her Aunt who died of meningitis in 1925. Upon Adele's death, the portrait became her body and presence and Altmann lived with the portrait for over ten years. In 1938, the gestapo came in, raided the Bloch-Bauer residence and took the painting without a word.

During a funeral for her sister, Altmann gets the contact information of Randol Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds) a young lawyer green around the ears. Schoenberg knows nothing about art restitution but he reluctantly agrees to research the subject.

Soon, he is hooked, as much from Maria's spirited resolve as the complex case.

The pair (by chance it seems) gets insider information from the reporter Hubertus Czernan (Daniel Bruhl) who has all of the useful answers.

While the film has a serialized feel of a Sherlock Holmes story or a TV court drama, with many scenes showing Ryan Reynolds rushing  and huffing breathlessly about, Helen Mirren gives the film a well needed gold shot in the arm with her pithy one liners in the mode of a "Saving Mr. Banks".

A chase scene plays tepidly. The officers are neither lively nor formidable but just merely present. Their most terrifying action is in the nonchalant removal of a Holbein and a diamond choker.

Katie Holmes is anemic as Randol's wife, but a good antidote is the stuffy and immovable Toman (Justus von Dohnanyi) as a Belvedere Museum representative. And, in what might be the weirdest moment in the film, Richard Reid plays Ronald Lauder, spaced out and staring in the manner of a David Cronenberg character.

Reynolds is not quite convincing as an impassioned lawyer, as his quizzical and flat expression seldom changes. He does show some juice when angry, but the chemistry between him and Mirren feels half-hearted.

Yet just when things go by the book as in many legal dramas with meetings, late night revelations over the computer and calls in the wee hours, Mirren saves the film with her haunt and possible attraction to her aunt who rises from the pools of her dark eyes to become a wanting in amber.

Though "Woman in Gold" remains conventional with some frequently seen trappings, fans of Helen Mirren will be well sated with her cool repostes. Her delivery has a vibrant  charm and it is through Mirren's expression alone that we feel the winding and sylph-like spirit of Aunt Adele and sense her knowing smile.

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