When I review a movie, I ask myself but one question: How entertaining is it? Of course, such a thing is always a matter of opinion and depends on an individual's personal background, personality, tastes, preferences, interests, experiences, and so forth. As a reviewer who likes all kinds of movies and hopes these reviews will be helpful to all kinds of moviegoers, I'm as objective and open-minded as I can be. Regardless of its genre, its subject matter or its background, all I expect from a movie is to enjoy it. This attitude allows me the freedom to like movies of any and all kinds, regardless of whether others think that I'm "supposed" to like them or not. Did the movie's comedy make me laugh, did its a drama draw me in and make me care, did its thrilling moments
thrill me? Etc., etc. You get the point. I expect a film to entertain me – to make me FEEL something. But the best movies also inform, educate, enlighten and uplift. Oh, and bonus points for originality, creativity, and technical and artistic excellence. When you have the pleasure of seeing a film with all of those characteristics, it is a "must see". It is a treasure. It is
art. "Woman in Gold" (PG-13, 1:49) is such a film.
"Woman in Gold" is based on the true story of Maria Altmann, who, as a young woman (played by Tatiana Maslany of "Orphan Black" fame) fled her beloved Austria as the Nazi noose was tightening around the necks of her Jewish countrymen. Encouraged by her family and with her new husband by her side, she left behind the people, places and possessions she loved. One of those possessions was a Gustav Klimt painting of her dear aunt Adele (Antje Traue), a painting which would soon be taken by the Nazis and, after World War II, end up in a Vienna art museum where it became so revered that one character calls it "the Mona Lisa of Austria".
When Maria (played as an old woman by Dame Helen Mirren) loses her sister, she discovers some letters that, along with 1990s changes in Austrian law, make her think that she might reclaim what once belonged to her family. She enlists the help of Randol Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds), a friend's son, to look into the matter for her. Randy is a young attorney who has just started a new job and whose wife (Katie Holmes) is concerned about the impact of a lengthy case on their growing family, but he becomes obsessed with Maria's cause. In Austria, Randy gains the assistance of a local journalist (Daniel Brühl), but this long and complicated bureaucratic and legal struggle may prove to be too much for any of them, or even all of them. If you ever start to think that this lengthy and emotionally taxing fight is merely about the extremely high value of the painting or even one woman's need for closure, you'll remember Maria ending a conversation about her motivations with "and then there's justice." "Woman in Gold" has something for everyone. It's an unusually dramatic history lesson, a riveting drama, an involving mystery, a fascinating legal thriller and a touching story of families and friendships. All members of the very talented cast bring their "A game", the writing is excellent and the editing is superb. All these factors come together in a narrative which transitions seamlessly between the story's present and its past, doing so as effectively as I've ever seen it done. The opening of the movie, a short scene involving the creation of the painting, effortlessly but effectively communicates how special the painting of the title really is. The film shows the plight of the Jews in Europe more personally than any film since "Schindler's List", but without being overwrought. It also sheds light on what it meant for a country to capitulate to the Nazis as well as the long-term effects of that chapter in history. Many scenes in the movie are dramatic and suspenseful, but the portion of the film in which Maria and her husband escape Austria is on par with the climactic scenes in Oscar-winning films like "Argo" and "The Sound of Music". Whichever genre or cubby hole that professional critics choose to place this movie in, it rises above most films to which it might be compared.
Like a great painting, a great film is a joy and an honor to see for yourself. I hope that "Woman in Gold" is remembered when all those gold statuettes are handed out this next awards season. The worth of the movie is, in the end, only my opinion, but this film informed me, educated me, enlightened me, uplifted me, and, as a wonderful work of art, it entertained me. "A+"