Film Review: Woman In Gold

I remember being absolutely blown away by the trailer when I first saw it. This overriding sense of power and responsibility and passion. A tale of standing up for what’s right, doing the right thing. And then I saw the trailer again, and things started to dilute, every viewing seeming to suggest that the film would turn out to be style over substance and that my original belief that there was meat to the story was wrong.

This growing unease towards the film was almost cemented by the reviews I heard. Comparisons of a fusion between Philomena and The Monuments Men but sadly lacking against both were combined with how this movie was a speculative punt by The Weinstein Company to continue the current trend of topical, historical and biographical stories that has been dominating the big screens over the last few months.

Helen Mirren - Calendar Girls

Things were not looking good.

It should also be stated that I’ve actually not watched many of Helen Mirren’s films. In fact, looking through her filmography the only film I’ve ever seen her in before is Calendar Girls, and that was a very, very long time ago. I don’t really hold any malice or opinion against her as an actress, she’s just obviously never starred in anything I want to watch.

Having mentioned Mirren, it seems to make sense to start with her performance as Maria in the Woman In Gold. I found her horrible. I truly detested her character. She’s obviously playing a real person, and how accurate a personality she brought to life I don’t know, but I just didn’t like her. She was split too wildly from deadpan wit to stinging narrow mindedness. She just rubbed me up the wrong way, everything just short, sharp why use two syllables when one will do abruptness. She is cold, and while there is an attempt to show a slight sense of humour in brief flirting moments it’s not enough to save her character. I just didn’t warm to her. In fact, the longer the story went on, the more I activity campaigned against her.

I must say though, that while Mirren’s performance does occasionally feel like it’s slipping, the accent noticeably waivers from time to time (usually at points of high emotion) for example, to have evoked such hatred towards her character as she did just proves that she is good at her profession whatever my thoughts.

Ryan Reynolds - Woman In Gold

Ryan Reynolds plays the lawyer charged with defeating the Austrian authorities and feels completely muddled as a character as well. We’re lead to believe that he’s being torn from pillar to post, out of his depth and driven by a determination to do what’s right and fight for the little (wo)man. But he never looks harassed. His shirt is always ironed, his tone is always clean. He never looks like a man out of his depth. Or that he’s been up 23 hours researching, planning, hoping. It all just feels a bit too easy for him. A bit too 9-5 just another simple days work.

While I can appreciate that you don’t want two hours of legal precedents, court room debates and stuffy arguments. The film glosses over the legal elements, arguably the most important part as they shape the entire film, too loosely. Speeches are cut too short. Decisions made too quickly. It all just feels too constricted to really feel correct. There is being concise and then there is turning the main plot into a race from A to B, cramming everything in as fleetingly as possible, so that it leaves you feeling like you really don’t understand why any decision is made the way it is. The Woman In Gold serves no explanation to any product or reason.

Tatiana Maslany & Max Irons - Woman In Gold

It’s not all doom and gloom though, because where the film really shines is when you actually remove Mirren and Reynolds from the screen! When it takes a step back in time and shows us how the painting fell from its original owner and the suffering the family went through at the hands of the Nazi’s as Jew’s living in Austria. The performance of Tatiana Maslany and Max Irons as the young Maria and her husband (Fritz) is emotional and intense, powerful and moving. It actually over shadows the rest of the film and while the portrayal of the Nazi persecution felt visually at times overly graphic for the tone of the rest of the film. Poking the bear because it could rather than because it should as it were. I could have easily watched an entire film based on the early story because it grabbed me so much, it got inside me so well that I didn’t want to be swept back to the main tale, the conclusion of what they started, because it meant breaking that tension. Even though you’re being returned to the matured characters you’re leaving, they somehow don’t work together. Mirren’s elder mentally impossible to grow out of the younger flower you side for so powerfully.

This film for me just doesn’t work. I can see why it is being compared to Philomena and The Monuments Men, and why people are saying it’s a poor imitation of both combined. But I find it bizarre that this comparison and opinion can even exist because it’s based on a true story. It’s fact not fiction. This really did happened. I just hope that in real life the characters were more humble, grounded and warm than those portrayed because aside from a few emotional minutes spent in the 1930s, for me it felt like a story of a spoilt woman demanding her toys back. And as we all know – I want never gets.

4 out of 10 stars (4 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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