Starring: Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds, Daniel Brühl, Katie Holmes, Tatiana Maslany, Max Irons, Charles Dance, Elizabeth McGovern, and Jonathan Pryce.
Director: Simon Curtis
Producer: David M. Thompson, Kris Thykier
Writer: Alexi Kaye Campbell
Run time: 109min
This is based on the true story of the late Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren). Maria was from a wealthy Austrian Jewish family and was forced to flee the Nazis with her husband. The Nazis stole her family’s possessions, including an extensive art collection that contained Gustav Klimt’s Woman in Gold. The painting is a portrait of her aunt – Adele Bloch-Bauer.
Upon the death of her sister, Maria discovers letters dating back to the 1940’s indicating previous attempts to obtain the family’s stolen artwork. This is the catalyst for her to seek the restitution of her family’s paintings, in particular the portrait, and with it justice. Altmann and her lawyer take the Austrian government to court.
I wanted to see this because Helen Mirren was in it, and she is wonderful in this role – no surprise there. The big surprise, for me, was Ryan Reynolds who plays the role of lawyer, Randy Schoenberg. I had really only seen him in roles where he acts the wise cracking action hero or side kick. I really enjoyed his performance in this movie far more than I expected and found him convincing as a nervous young lawyer desperate to change his fortunes.
The story progression / script offered no surprises, but I still really enjoyed the movie. The film touches on many serious issues and its only fault may be in not dealing in huge depth with each of them, as some reviewers have suggested, but given its run-time I think it does a fine job.
The relationship between Altmann and Schoenberg is both tempestuous and touching. The scripting and acting provide many moments of poignancy and humour in a film that deals with sombre issues. The flashback sequences in the movie are inserted seamlessly and focus on the human tragedy involved by showing everyday scenes in Altmann’s life. To know they are lost and then to see the disintegration of the joys in their life with the increase of Nazism makes them all the more heartbreaking and it makes her victory all the more satisfying.
This film represents not just a David vs Goliath legal battle, but deals with injustices of the past and the nature of guilt – Altmann’s feelings of guilt as a survivor, Schoenberg’s guilt for initially pursuing the case due to money, one man’s guilt over his Nazi father’s past. Even the establishment of the art restitution board in Austria is not merely about justice, but in part a means of allaying guilt. The art is in laying personal demons to rest and coming to terms with the past, while still holding its lessons to our hearts. I’d love to add and not letting history repeat itself, but I don’t have that much faith.