Holocaust movies have always been a sub-genre of impressive dramas. History is rife with stories of human suffering and none demand to be retold more than those of the millions of persecuted Jews in Hitler’s Europe. “Life is Beautiful,” “The Pianist” and “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas” are but a few among a series of movies significant in terms of both their cinematic and narrative value. And of course, who could forget “Schindler’s List” with its beautiful plot, acting, and cinematography.
Unfortunately, “Woman in Gold” falls short of its predecessors. It may be based on a true story, and it’s an interesting one at that, but unfortunately the subject matter feels more worthy of a documentary than a feature film. Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren) is the niece of the titular lady in a rich and cultured Jewish family in Austria. When the Nazis take over Austria, they secretly escape and leave behind everything they own, including a famous painting. One random day, many decades later and seemingly out of a combination of nostalgia and boredom, she decides to ditch her quiet but comfortable life in California to get the painting back. Representing her is Randol Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds), a lawyer who’s initially in it for the money, but after a sudden and dramatic burst of emotion, decides that he absolutely must get the painting back for reasons that he himself cannot explain. The quest for justice is always a noble one, but when there literally aren’t any motives, it becomes lackluster. I thought maybe Daniel Brühl’s character might thicken the plot a little (not at all biased by my love for “Inglorious Basterds,” I swear), but even his sketchy motives for helping the duo ultimately seem unexplainable.
The acting is equally dull. Maria Altmann is an inherently boring character whom wistfully gazes into mirrors and occasionally makes quirky remarks, but otherwise doesn’t say or do anything interesting. It doesn’t help that Helen Mirren’s spectrum of emotions consists of “I’m old and tired” and “I’m trying not to be old and tired,” with little in between. Ryan Reynolds is even more bland and monotonous in his facial expressions and line delivery, which makes his aforementioned dramatic change of heart slightly comical and highly unrealistic.
I’m running out of synonyms for dull, so I’ll just go ahead and say that the editing is really, really dull. It’s clear that the director was going for a nostalgic vibe with the washed out colors, but they look either awkward or flat. Throughout the predictably timed flashbacks to when Maria still lived in Austria, the colors of her happy memories are strange hues of burgundy and olive green. In Microsoft Word, under the color options you get for highlighting text, there are a few nice, bright colors, and then a handful of awkward shades of the same colors that look really off underneath them. The editor used all of them. The shots for the present day are no better: all of them look like the editor set saturation to zero.
True story =/= good story.
“Woman in Gold” is now playing in theaters nationwide.
Review by William Park