Mirren fights for art stolen by Nazis in 'Woman in Gold'

Tom Long
The Detroit News
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"Woman in Gold" is a feisty old lady movie.

Oh, sure, it has Nazis and panicked escapes and rigid bureaucrats and pompous lawyers and even cute babies, but it's still your basic feisty old lady flick.

The old lady in question is played by Helen Mirren, so there's a certain quality to the feistiness, to be sure. But this is, nevertheless, the sort of film where younger folk wink and nod at one another to show they appreciate how much spunk the old bag of bones in the back seat is exhibiting. It has the sheen of serious drama, but remains a not-so-distant cousin of that benchmark of the genre, "Stop or My Mom Will Shoot."

Based on true events, Mirren plays Maria Altman, a Jewish refugee from Austria who fled from the Nazis long ago. The film opens with the burial of her sister, an event that has Maria looking back at their shared past. They came from a wealthy, arts-loving family, and all the paintings from the family's lavish apartment were confiscated by the Nazis.

Now those paintings, notably a gold-encrusted one of Maria's aunt, are hanging in a museum in Vienna. Maria wonders if she might be able to get them back (they're worth hundreds of millions). So she enlists the aid of a young, struggling lawyer named Randy Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds) — grandson of the famed Austrian composer, son of a famous judge — to help her investigate.

Together, they fly to Vienna and begin looking into the past with the help of an investigative reporter (Daniel Bruhl). And it turns out, the paintings do seem to legally belong to Maria. Now all they have to do is convince Austria of that.

Austria, it turns out, is not easily convinced. And so your basic David vs. Goliath confrontation begins.

Meanwhile, director Simon Curtis is laying out the life of young Maria ("Orphan Black" star Tatiana Maslany, henceforward the go-to gal for young Helen Mirren roles) in flashbacks. The cultured life, the Nazi invasion, the destruction of families, Maria's flight to freedom with her young husband (Max Irons). It's inevitably moving, but it's also inevitably familiar.

The chief weakness here is the script by Alexi Kaye Campbell, which tends toward earnestness and depends on sudden moments of revelation (Schoenberg visits a Holocaust memorial and suddenly remembers he's Jewish; the investigative reporter blurts out that his father was a Nazi.)

Still, you can't go all that wrong with a feisty old lady trying to punch the ghost of Nazis past in the nose. "Woman in Gold" may be a bit obvious, but it's still a story worth telling. The moral is clear: Don't mess with old bags of bones. They just might bite.



'Woman in Gold'


Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and brief strong language

Running time: 109 minutes

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