Woman In Gold
Director: Simon Curtis.
Cast: Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds, Daniel Bruhl, Tatiana Maslany, Katie Holmes, Antje Traue.
FILMMAKERS will never stop making films about World War II and this is a good thing.
Firstly, lest we forget, and secondly, that dark hour of human history has a near-endless number of surprising and fascinating stories that should be told.
Case in point is Woman In Gold, another unexpected tale looking at an oft-forgotten ramification of the war.
It's based on the true story of Maria Altmann (Mirren), a Jewish woman keen to regain ownership of a portrait of her aunt, which was stolen from her family by the Nazis during WWII.
Unfortunately for Maria, that painting happens to be an iconic Austrian artwork and one of the most valuable paintings in the world - Gustav Klimt's Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I aka Woman In Gold.
With the help of down-on-his-luck lawyer Randy Schoenberg (Reynolds) - also of Austrian descent - the pair embark on a typically David-vs-Goliath struggle against the Austrian government.
While this story has probably been better and more accurately told in at least three documentaries (Stealing Klimt, Adele's Wish, and The Rape Of Europa), none of those retellings had the marvellous Mirren.
Whether she's playing Elizabeth II in The Queen or toting machine guns in RED, Mirren is rarely short of perfection, and her turn in Woman In Gold is no exception.
She imbues Altmann with the necessary mix of resilience and regret, of strength and sadness that comes with living through tragedy, but adds a welcome touch of humour and a deep sense of honour. It's not a flashy performance, nor is it the kind that turns award-givers' heads - it's just good solid craft from an actor who's still at the top of her game.
Reynolds, who seems to be maligned more for his bad choices than his performances (see The Green Lantern, RIPD, and The Change-Up), is a great foil for Mirren here, dialing down the smarm and putting in the charm as Schoenberg. It's more than that though - he brings the requisite amount of emotion and reminds us again how underrated he is (see Buried, Adventureland, and The Voices).
It's these performances, as well as a thankless turn from Bruhl as an Austrian reporter and a neat cameo from Jonathan Pryce as a chief justice, that elevate Woman In Gold somewhat.
The story clunks a bit, either as a result of some unnecessary over-scripting or slightly off editing, and although the film generally juggles its two time periods reasonably well, occasionally the transition is jarring.
It's also a very moving film, but occasionally pushily so. Curtis, who mined historical gold previously with My Week With Marilyn, throws in a few slow zooms straight out of an afternoon soapie and turns up the sombre strings when he really should just let the story and the performances speak for themselves.
Because, after all, it's the fascinating real-life underdog story (as predictable as it is) and the pairing of Mirren and Reynolds that are the focus here.
Woman In Gold is not exactly a work of art, but it's worth the price of admission.