Thursday, April 9, 2015

Movie Review #239: "Woman in Gold" (2015)

Movie"Woman in Gold"
Ticket Price: $9.75
Director: Simon Curtis
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 2 hours, 17 minutes
Image Source
An elderly Austrian born Jewish woman named Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren) wants to reclaim her family's art collection that was stolen from her family by the Nazis during WWII. She gets help from the son of a family friend, a lawyer named Randol Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds). He and Maria travel to Austria for the first time since she escaped to try and reclaim the paintings from the Austrian government. Austria is not willing to let the paintings go without a fight, especially considering the value of the art collection, in particular, a painting of Maria's aunt known as Woman in Gold, is valued at well over $100 million dollars. 

World War II may be the single biggest supplier of story lines for Hollywood, with the next biggest category being courtroom dramas and stories dealing with famous court cases. Though the primary focus of this film is a court case that takes place in the late 90's and early 2000's, its catalyst was certainly WWII, and more specifically, when the Nazis came into Austria and forced Jewish families to flee the country in order to escape persecution. Much like 2014's flop "The Monuments Men," "Woman in Gold" tries to bring awareness to the theft of famous works of art as another form crime purported by the Nazis during the war. Rather than using a broad paintbrush to create a vast landscape encompassing many parts to this complex issue, this film is an intimate portrait (all art puns intended) focusing on the case of one wealthy Austrian family in particular.

If you've been a reader of this blog for any length of time, you might know that BigJ and I love Helen Mirren, and that I, in particular, think she can do no wrong as an actress. Frankly, with what she was given, she performs the hell out of her role and this movie was lucky to get her as its star. Even though she is great here, especially when giving one of her character's long, important speeches, unfortunately, as a whole, the movie is actually rather slow and quite frankly, a little boring at times. For a film with such a compelling true story as its subject matter, its filmmakers do very little to get the audience interested in what it's selling. The pacing, from the start, is off, and especially considering how predictable the story is, it really can't afford to be. Right from the opening scene, we have a pretty good idea how the movie will end, but the road that gets us to the resolution is not an informative and engaging one, but rather, a long and windy one. By far, the best parts of this movie are the flashback scenes from when Helen Mirren's character Maria was younger and forced to leave her Austrian home in pursuit of the states and a better life. These flashbacks are the only mildly engaging moments of the movie as they deal with how Jewish Austrians were treated during WWII, as well as the Nazi occupation of Austria when many citizens readily and freely went out into the streets to welcome Hitler and his armies to their new home. Anytime a film plasters a screen with Nazi flags and shows even the mildest, slightest crimes committed by them, it's sure to spark some emotional stirring in your belly and your heart. Though most of these flashback scenes are meant to set the stage for what's to come with our characters and the paintings later in the film, many of them drag on for far too long and could have easily been cut to help the movie's pacing and flow.

The rest of the film really fails to strike that same emotional chord, however small. As we mentioned above, Mirren is as good as always and in typical Mirren fashion, she offers up a good balance of serious stoicism and witty rhetorical quips. Ryan Reynolds has emerged from his swanky and most likely expensive hiding place to star in this film, trying his hand at a slightly less comedic role. We're just going to come out and say it since you're probably thinking it anyways: Reynolds is not the best actor in the world. People seem to tolerate him because he's easy on the eyes, but we have always struggled to take him seriously, even if he's only lending his voice to a picture. Though this film is a labeled a serious, dramatic one, Reynolds's best moments still come from his funny, sarcastic remarks and banter-like dialogue. Even when Randol is trying his best to have these really intense, dramatic moments of revelation and sadness, Reynolds is so even-toned in his voice and dopey looking in his face that it seems hard for him to really express those deeper emotions. At first, Mirren is allowed to act circles around him and their relationship on screen is that of an annoyed school boy and his equally annoying teacher. As time ticks slowly by, Mirren and Reynolds both come out of their shells with one another and their chemistry gets more believable the longer the story goes on. Beyond these two principle leads, another one of our favs, Daniel Brühl, is also in the film, playing an Austrian reporter with his own sins to make right. While he is good in this small role, we wish his part would have been bigger since we are quite fond of him. Unbeknownst to us, Katie Holmes also popped up in this movie in a small role as Ryan Reynolds' nagging, pregnant wife and has about 3.46 minutes of screen time, so it's hardly worth mentioning, but again, here's another actor who has been "hiding" out and not doing much these days.

Without Helen Mirren, this film would have bordered on being a complete disaster. Since she is in it, though, it's not a total mess, but it's still nowhere near as compelling and intriguing as it could have been. Marred by its slow pacing, "Woman in Gold" feels like it has left the best parts of the story on the cutting room floor. We walked out of the theater thinking, "that's it?" The story itself is too predictable, and as with most films that are "based on a true story," we found ourselves wondering both before and after the movie, if the outcome of a true life story is not a happy one, would it even be worthy of a film adaptation in the first place? Our best guess is "no," and even if it wasn't modeled after actual events, this film would still be just as long and boring as it was based on something from the history books. We feel as if we have heard this type of story be told time and time again, and better, by someone else.

My Rating: 5/10
BigJ's Rating: 5/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.1/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 50%
Do we recommend this movie: Meh.

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