Popcorn Preview: Woman in Gold

04/10/2015 10:42 pm ET | Updated Jun 10, 2015

Woman in Gold (2015)
Cast includes: Helen Mirren (The Queen), Ryan Reynolds (Green Lantern), Charles Dance (The Imitation Game), Daniel Brühl (Inglorious Basterds), Katie Holmes (Batman Begins)
Director: Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn)
Genre: Drama | History (109 minutes) Parts in German with subtitles

As the film opens, we see the restless Adele Bloch-Bauer sitting for a portrait by Gustav Klimt. Who would have guessed that a family portrait would become the center of an Austrian identity crisis? Especially a portrait of a Jewish woman. In 1998, Maria Altmann's sister Louisa is laid to rest. As Maria leaves the cemetery with her friend Barbara, she asks about Barbara's son, the struggling lawyer. "I found some letters in my sister's belongings, and I need someone I can trust to look them over." The timing isn't good because Randy Schoenberg may not be struggling for long. He has an interview at Bergen Brown Sherman. Although Mr. Sherman isn't so impressed with Randy's Pasadena experience, Sherman must be a music lover. "Are you any relations to Arnold Schoenberg?" "My grandfather," says Randy. "Well, let's give it a go, Mr. Schoenberg."

"You look tired and stressed," says Maria when Randy gets to her bungalow. "But you're not so bad looking," she adds and invites her friend's son in for homemade strudel. On the mantel is a photo of the Bloch-Bauer family in their Vienna home. There are the sisters and their parents, along with their aunt and uncle, who lived with them. Aunt Adele had no children, so she doted on the two girls like a second mother. But Maria didn't ask Randy over to look at the photo. She has letters about Aunt Adele's painting, which "was taken off our walls in Vienna." "And you want to be reunited?" "Wouldn't that be lovely!" The first meeting with Randy seems like a waste of time, but he takes the letters to read anyway. Later over lunch, we learn that Maria could have a case, but Randy doesn't think the case is for him. Anyway, why is Maria so insistent? "We have the same history." Indeed Randy's grandfather Arnold was in the Bloch-Bauer home many times. But it isn't family ties that win Randy over... it's the estimated value of the painting.

Randy's firm gives him a week to spend on the case, and he convinces Maria to come back to Vienna with him. It's an emotional week and memories of her youth are flooding back at every turn. As the film alternates between the modern day case and the events of the 1930s, we get a deeper understanding of why restitution is so important. Although the Austrian government has been pushed into greater transparency, there's little chance of getting back a painting that has become part of the Austrian identity... although the name of Adele's painting has been changed to erase her Jewishness... she's now just the "Woman in Gold." "She is the Mona Lisa of Austria. Do you think they will just let her go?" The case goes through many twists and turns. Is it going to "open a whole can of worms... or is it just about restoration of a single worm?" The filmmakers do an excellent job of engaging us in the story, even though many of the plot elements have been altered considerably from actual events. (There's actually enough interesting material for a miniseries... "Wouldn't that be lovely!") While there are many excellent performances, Helen Mirren stands out as the prickly and complicated Maria. There are many moments when they felt like giving up. But Maria is learning to "face the ghosts" and to stand up to those who tell her, "You people never give up."

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The restoration of Klimpt's famous portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer to her family

Popcorn Profile
Rated: PG-13
Audience: Grown-ups
Gender Style: Neutral
Distribution: Mainstream Limited Release
Mood: Neutral
Tempo: Cruises Comfortably
Visual Style: High-End Production
Nutshell: Famous painting stolen by the Nazis
Language: True to life
Social Significance: Informative & Thought Provoking

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