RE-VIEW: ‘Based on a more interesting true story’
Re-View, with Matt Murphy - The DEX columnist
TIMELINE - America 1998. World War II ended 53 years ago. A distant memory and most want it left as such. Except one woman. Helen Mirren plays Jewish Austrian-American Holocaust survivor Maria Altmann, now an 80-something small boutique owner in sunny California, at peace with her little life. But with the recent death of her sister, she discovers letters and documents possibly proving ownership of priceless family artworks now displayed in Viennese museum.
The most famous, a painting of her late Aunt known as 'Woman in Gold' the main attraction of the items that were stolen by the Nazis during WWII. With recent changes to Austrian law regarding Stolen Nazi Art Restitution - and with the help of a reluctant family friend and young lawyer (Ryan Reynolds), Maria sees her chance to reclaim what is rightfully her families and have justice served.
As difficult as it is to structure and pace what is primarily a court and appeal procedural melodrama set over several years, the filmmakers sorta, maybe, kinda, make it work.
Despite the cliched flashbacks and heavy exposition on how everyone is feeling at any given minute.
The problem, and it's hard to admit to this about a Holocaust survivor story with all its Nazi horror, is that I wasn't emotionally engaged with the characters and story.
Even with a subtle nod toward modern day (ok the late 1990s), anti-Semitic feeling in Austria and a brief look at the murky world of the political games played as part of war reparation - say sorry but admit to as little as possible - the film felt a little contrived.
A more in depth look at the situation, apparently around 100,000 pieces of Art still remain unaccounted for (i.e. probably in South America somewhere) and whether current Governments help or hinder the process of justice for these undoubted victims of one of the great horrors in our history, could have been more intriguing.
The cast is solid, Mirren is elegant and bold, easily conveying the motives and pain of a strong, independent survivor.
The rest enjoy the easy ride - not particularly challenged along the way to show any great depth.
Perhaps all relied too heavily on the emotional baggage supplied by a Jewish Survivor 'Underdog' War movie.
So unfortunately, Woman in Gold should come with the tagline…based on a more interesting true story.