WOMAN IN GOLD is the remarkable true story of one woman's journey to reclaim her heritage and seek justice for what happened to her family. Sixty years after she fled Vienna during World War II, an elderly Jewish woman, Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren), starts her journey to retrieve family possessions seized by the Nazis, among them Gustav Klimt's famous painting Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I. Together with her inexperienced but plucky young lawyer Randy Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds), she embarks upon a major battle which takes them all the way to the heart of the Austrian establishment and the U.S. Supreme Court, and forces her to confront difficult truths about the past along the way.
'Woman in Gold' is one of those films that I almost feel bad criticizing. It's a movie that's based on a true story that should make for captivating storytelling, but it has a screenplay that fails to engage the viewer in any meaningful way. I can't even really blame the actors (except for perhaps Ryan Reynolds...but more about him in a bit) or the director for this one…it's the storytelling itself that is mostly lifeless.
The movie tells the real-life tale of Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren), who escaped from Nazi-controlled Austria in the late 1930s. Years later, now an American citizen, an older Altmann learns that family-owned paintings that were stolen by the Germans – including the valuable "Portrait of Adele Block-Bauer I" by Gustav Klimt – are now the property of the Austrian government and on display in an Austrian museum. Believing the paintings to be rightful her family's, Altmann enlists the aid of attorney Randy Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds) to try and sue for the return of the portraits to Altmann.
Perhaps realizing that a movie that would only be about court cases trying to get stolen artwork back could be a little dull for an audience (and it is), the film also has a large number of flashback sequences that tell about the Nazi aggression in Austria, as well as how Altmann (played by Orphan Black's Tatiana Maslany) and her husband were able to escape the country. Despite the fact that we've now seen dozens (if not hundreds) of movies made about how evil the Nazis were, these flashback portions are easily the best parts of 'Women in Gold' and would have probably made for a much better movie if the sole focus had been on this portion of Altmann's life (with perhaps the lawsuits over the stolen artwork more of a coda to the movie).
As far as the actual performances in the movie go, the actors do their best with what they're given. It's perhaps no surprise that Helen Mirren is solid here, and those who are familiar with the TV work of Tatiana Maslany also won't be shocked that she gives a solid performance as the younger Altmann. Ryan Reynolds, on the other hand, seems woefully miscast here as Randy Schoenberg, having a "deer caught in the headlights" look throughout the movie that would be laughable if the content here weren't intended to be so serious. I'll given Reynolds credit for taking on such a part, but he's clearly not up to the task. The fact that most of his scenes are shared with the much more capable Mirren only wind up making his performance look worse.
'Woman in Gold' feels very much like something that should have been made for television instead of as a full-blown theatrical film. It wants to get by on the importance of its subject matter alone, but there's not enough here to engage an audience. Most of us already know about the Nazi atrocities of the 1930s and 40s, and if you're going to tell a story about stolen artwork, you need a lot more to keep a viewer interested. The bonus materials on this release tell us that 'Woman in Gold' is story about justice. Maria Altmann got hers, but viewers of this movie will feel like they were robbed.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Woman in Gold' appears on Blu-ray in a standard Elite keepcase, which houses the dual-layer 50 GB disc, along with an insert containing a code for an UltraViolet HD copy of the movie. The Blu-ray is front-loaded with trailers for The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, The Imitation Game, and Philomena. The main menu consists of a video montage of scenes from the movie, with menu selection across the bottom of the screen.
The Blu-ray in this release is Region A-locked.
'Woman in Gold' was shot digitally using Arri Alexa equipment, and looks about as good as other titles I've seen shot on the Arri. There's a good sense of detail and depth in most of the shots, and black levels throughout are pretty strong. Viewers will notice that, by choice, the cinematography intentionally seeps some color out of the image for the historical scenes, while the modern-day scenes are more natural looking. Flesh tones here are realistic and not oversaturated, keeping in mind again that the historical segments are less colorful, meaning the actors do have a slightly paler look to them.
In terms of any glitches, such as banding or aliasing, I was hard pressed to find any. So while this may not be the most stunning-looking Blu-ray you own, there are no obvious problems with the transfer either, providing for a pleasant viewing experience overall.
The vast majority of 'Woman in Gold' features – as you may have already guessed – characters sitting around having conversations with each other. With that in mind, the quality of the English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track on this release isn't always apparent. However, even from the opening credits, which show the creation of the Portrait of Adele Block-Bauer I, one can hear the detailed and distinct sounds that this track is rendering. The audio also gets a chance to show off a bit in one of the historical scenes during which the younger Maria Altmann is able to escape Austria. For the most part, however, little is going on in terms of directionality or immersiveness…but that has more to do with the movie itself, than any issues with the audio, which – at least to my ears – seemed to be free of any glitches or problems.
In addition to the 5.1 lossless main track, this Blu-ray also contains a Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 track. Subtitles are available in both English SDH and Spanish.
Maria Altmann's real-life effort to get back family paintings that were stolen by the Nazis is certainly one worth hearing, I'm just not sure it's worthy of a dramatic feature film. It's certainly not worthy of the one we get here, which is a rather dull and listless presentation, despite some good performances and competent direction. Skip it.