Thursday, 4 June 2015

Movie Review: Woman In Gold (2015)



Hitler was not a nice person. The acts he committed and oversaw during his lifetime mark him as one of, if not the, most despicable human in our history. His actions had a detrimental effect on millions, if not billions of people, and as a result the ultimate extreme when it comes to explaining how bad something is is to compare them directly to Hitler and/or the Third Reich. No, you aren’t reading the latest edition of Great Ders Of History; I only bring this up because of how often filmmakers apparently want to remind us of this fact. Not long ago, I was in a mild state of burnout because the cinemas were full of overly serious works and little else. It is now that I realize that I misappropriated that tired state to everything that was coming, when in reality I was just getting bored of films having to do with World War II; not just films set during that time, but films that have anything to do with that time period. The fact that it is the go-to setting for films fishing for Oscars doesn’t help. As much as I wasn’t too fond of A Royal Night Out, it made for a nice change of pace from the rest of the war time films that, regardless of quality, are starting to make me weary. Will today’s film help with that or just make it feel worse? Only one way to discern that: This is Woman In Gold.

The plot: Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren) wants to be reunited with the Portrait Of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, a painting of her late aunt that was stolen from her family during the Nazi plunder. She enlists the help of lawyer Randy (Ryan Reynolds) in her mission to obtain the portrait but the Viennese government is doing everything possible to stop them in their tracks.

The premise here, on its own, feels like it was made into a film as a response to the WWII film trend, both as an example for why they are needed and as a means of delivering the same punch in a different way. The latter is relatively simple, in that in focuses on a woman trying to rectify what the Third Reich did to her and her family decades after the fact, meaning that the easy pathos gotten from the setting is still there without having the entire film set in it. The film is split between Maria and Randy’s actions in the ‘present’ and flashbacks of Maria’s memories of her aunt and the rest of her Jewish family living in Vienna under the Nazi regime. The former, as an extension of that, shows that even though the events of the setting are well behind us at this point, their effects are still being felt now and hurting people to this very day in one way or another. Add to that the fact that we have the generational gap to help illustrate this, with Maria having been physically there to witness it first-hand and Randy’s grandparents having been killed in a concentration camp, and this is a very solid foundation for a film. What a shame that it didn’t exactly work out as planned.

The cast is pretty spotty: While thespian porn survivor Helen Mirren is very good as Maria, delivering aloofness and dry humour just as well as the more emotional moments, Ryan Reynolds is pretty badly miscast here. Not to say that he’s bad in the role, as he has his own share of scenes that showcase his dramatic capabilities, but that he is a lot better known for being the cocky, snarky asshole in movies like Van Wilder and Blade: Trinity. Hell, his portrayal of Deadpool may have been wasted in X-Men Origins, but he is that perfect for the role that he has thankfully been given a second chance to portray the psychotic, fourth wall breaking mercenary for hire. Meek and bumbling lawyer, Ryan is not, and that is not helped by the obligatory end-credits slideshow that shows how Randy looks IRL; it’s like in Cloud Atlas where Tom Hanks was cast to play Jim Broadbent in terms of Hollywood-pretty casting. Katie Holmes might as well not be in this movie for how much she actually does. Sure, she adds to what Randy is putting at stake with his numerous court dates, but it just ends up dragging the film down. Justus Von Dohn├ínyi as the opposition Toman is far from subtle in his villainy, which kind of sucks considering even Maria’s actions were criticized by some after all was said and done, and he is more impotent than any kind of legitimate threat both in and out of court. Honestly, the actor who seems to do best here is Jonathon Pryce as the presiding judge for the case in the Supreme Court and his role is pretty minor in the grand scheme of things and mostly used for baseline laughs.

This film is dedicated to telling the real-life story as best as it can to a fault; it’s so focused on portraying events that it somehow missed the emotional impact said scenes are supposed to have. A big contributor to this is the simple fact that the plot has almost no discernible flow. Through awkward ‘____ months later’ transitions, scenes that don’t necessarily lead into each other that well and the occasional bit of contradictory dialogue, this film has a very stop-start-stop-start approach to its structure, making even the scenes that logically follow up on each other feel out of place. Sure, this could be forgiven if said scenes had the appropriate dramatic impact, but that seems to be missing from all of this as well. There are a few scenes, most of which involve Reynolds oddly enough, that show some real hard-hitting moments like when Randy has a breakdown at the Holocaust Museum. But for the most part, there’s a very detached feeling surrounding a lot of this film. The main reason for that, as far as I can discern, is that not enough emphasis is put on the connections between the characters for their actions to have the right meaning. Even though the crux of the film centers around Maria’s connection with Adele and her need for them to be together again, the film does an extremely weak job of establishing that connection. Hell, even if they included just one more scene to further establish it, like Maria being at her aunt’s deathbed, that would’ve improved the film at least a little. By far the biggest pathos killer is the ending, which involves Maria revisiting her family home that is now an office building. What follows is what would normally be a rather touching flashback sequence that suddenly becomes hilarious once you realize that the office workers can probably see everything that Maria is doing and that she would look like a crazy person. Nothing like the possibility of dementia to cap off a supposedly triumphant ending.

All in all, this had so much potential to separate itself from the myriad of World War II-centric films that we’ve seen with a based-on-actual-events story of a woman trying to regain what the Nazis took away from her decades earlier. Instead, through a combination of awkward miscasting, stilted plot progression and an overall clinical approach to the plot, it just seems to waft past the audience and out the cinema doors and, subsequently, the audience’s memories. If the subject matter here interests you, then I would advise against seeing this and instead checking out George Clooney’s The Monuments Men; it has a similar plot involving retrieving artwork after the Nazis stole them, but set during World War II and it does a better job at delivering the drama as well as a few laughs along the way. It’s better than Tinker Bell And The Legend Of The NeverBeast, as I can at least see a reason for this film to exist, but Dumb And Dumber Too’s surprisingly clever ending outperforms next to everything Woman In Gold has to offer.

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