Woman in Gold

★★½
Nothing’s really “gold” here, save for Helen Mirren’s performance.
Movie Review #1,001

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The Weinstein Company
Drama
1 hour, 49 minutes
Rated PG-13 (some thematic elements and brief strong language)
Released April 10, 2015
Directed by Simon Curtis
Written by Alexi Kaye Campbell
From the life story by E. Randol Schoenberg & Maria Altmann
Starring Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds, and Daniel Brühl

Helen Mirren is pretty much Great Britain’s answer to Meryl Streep. We could be faced with most lackluster drama of the year, and her performance alone will make it a worthwhile viewing. That seems to be the case with “Woman in Gold”. The way Mirren resurrects the movie with her electric performance, the movie might as well be Frankenstein’s monster. Her portrayal of a Holocaust survivor is utterly riveting.

This is a prime example of an actress carrying a movie. It’s Mirren that keeps us interested, and frankly, we should be interested. The story is important by any standard. Despite her vow never to return to Austria after fleeing to America during the Holocaust, Maria Altmann (Mirren) decides he will travel to Austria to reclaim Woman in Gold, a painting that was stolen from her family by the Nazis several decades ago and is now worth at least $100 million. She recruits a much younger, Jewish lawyer (Ryan Reynolds) to help her sue the Austrian government, which has refused restitution of the stolen artwork.

At first, it’s Mirren trying to convince Reynolds that this she needs his help, amid the fact that he has a full-time job and a family to care for. Soon enough, though, it’s Reynolds trying to encourage Mirren not to give up until she has finished what she started. At this point, though, she’s just so suddenly changed her mind about trying to reclaim her stolen art.

That standard role reversal is just one of way too many things we’ve seen in way too many other movies. The worst part about it is that in “Woman in Gold”, it feels downright contrived. No wait, I take that back. The worst part is that it ultimately feels like Mirren cares a lot less about reclaiming a stolen personal treasure than Reynolds does about representing her in this case.

The story deserved a proper screenplay, not Alexi Kaye Campbell’s. “Woman in Gold” follows the same outline that virtually every other feel-good movie follows, except here, the outline feels like it’s been boldfaced to accentuate its obviousness. The one new touch Campbell gives the story is vulnerability. The fact that it plays out just as any other feel-good film would, makes a remarkable story so much less interesting.

The script’s basic structure also feels very forced. As a result, you get characters who randomly do stupid shit because that helps the story to move along. Did I mention that, in an effort to prove how incredibly dedicated he is to representing Mirren, Reynolds quits his office job at the law firm because it’s taking up time he could be using on the case that he really cares about? Sure that shows dedication, but it also exhibits a level of stupidity that makes you wonder how he ever became a lawyer. It shows even more dedication, and even more stupidity, because he really needs a steady income: he has a wife, a kid, and another kid on the way. I suppose some part of him might secretly want to sell the painting once he’s successfully reclaimed it (if he’s successfully reclaimed it), but the more logical explanation is that I am thinking this through far more than the screenwriter ever cared to.

“Woman in Gold” is lackluster. Even the casting is lazy. In what world does Ryan Reynolds make a believable couple with Katie Holmes? That’s almost as careless as pairing Blake Lively with Tom Cruise. Okay maybe the casting isn’t entirely lazy. Helen Mirren’s here, after all, and that makes all the difference.

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