‘Woman in Gold’
Director: Simon Curtis
Stars: Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds
2 (out of 5) Globes
Great events don’t necessarily make great stories. Case in point: the tale of Maria Altmann, an Austrian woman who escaped the Holocaust, relocated to Los Angeles and, when she when in her 80s, sought to retrieve a number of paintings belonging to her family that were stolen by the Nazis and put in Austrian hands. Among these were several by Gustav Klimt, including his most famous work, “Adele Bloch-Bauer I,” which is in fact a gold-specked eyesore of her aunt. It took years and several court cases, including a visit to the American Supreme Court, for her to get them back from the oddly rigid Austrian government, but she did it, and that’s great.
But how does one translate this convoluted and dryly court-heavy tale into a simple popcorn entertainment? Why would one? The tact adopted by the makers of “Woman in Gold” amounts to charming one’s way out of one’s problems — hoping flashy distractions will serve to avert audience attention away from the lack of basic dramatic devices, including a story that’s too simple plus weak or non-existent character arcs. The flashiest trinket is its star: Helen Mirren, in full-on light comic mode as a saucy, flirtatious Maria. She gets to casually tell off people who rub her the wrong way, crack one-liners upon little triumphs and generally coast on her general Helen Mirren-ness.
What she doesn’t get to do is dig into a complicated role. Every now and then Maria gets to look ashen as she remembers the trauma of her past — the relatives and friends lost to the war, the civilization in which she sprang displaced and destroyed, the jerks who are standing in her way. But she never has to make any real decisions. Maria is in the right from the start, and what follows is merely a case of her sometimes giving up on a seemingly endless battle against stubborn forces before springing back into action. Mirren underplays heroically, and brings the depth of feeling absent from the shallow script, but the role makes her turn as a snooty semi-racist in “The Hundred Foot Journey” look like it was scribbled by Ibsen.