Release Date: April 1, 2015
Director: Simon Curtis
Writer: Alexi Kaye Campbell, E. Randol Schoenberg
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Helen Mirren, Katie Holmes, Tatitana Maslany, Max Irons, Charles Dance, Elizabeth McGovern, Antje Traue, Daniel Bruhl, Neve Gachev, Frances Fisher, Jonathan Pryce, Tom Schilling, Moritz Bleibtreu, Anthony Howell, Allan Corduner, Henry Goodman, Asli Bayram, Mac Pietowski, Richard Reid
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 109 minutes
Production Company: Origin Pictures, 2nd District Filmproduktion, BBC Films
Country: UK, USA
Films based on true stories can either be informative or entertaining. It’s a delight when they accomplish both. While the majority may swing towards the latter, a true story really hits its mark if the audience can empathize with the characters, or realistically sympathize with them.
This can be done in hundreds of ways, and mostly comes down to the filmmaker. How does the team behind the camera tell you a story with so many tools to choose from? This is the obvious question for all films, factual or fictional. However, in the case of true stories, it’s so important to get every little detail right.
Actress Helen Mirren (Maria Altmann) and director Simon Curtis find all those significant details that make a film convincing. Her performance is fantastic, but she draws you in with one of the simplest techniques.
For those unfamiliar with the story, this one takes place in the late 90’s. Title cards aren’t necessary, but it’s still apparent from the wardrobe and set pieces. The cinematography is a character in itself, using color tones to match different time lines and emotions. When the mood is dull so is the color, and if it’s suspenseful, the hues are rich.
Every scene is distinguishable from the previous one, and this shows most clearly in all the flashbacks. When the story jumps back to the 40’s, the entire screen looks like a painting. It’s as if the Woman of Gold painting has sprung to life, suffusing the film and all its actors with energy. The great imagery isn’t all I can rave about, because it is partnered with great performances.
For a while, I enjoyed the flashbacks more than the present day. With heart-wrenching emotion, the actors depict all the agony and pain our elderly went through during WWII. The story of the War has been told over and over again, but it’s appreciated when you’re given a new perspective.
From a negative standpoint, I have to say, the movie at times overstayed its welcome, but then didn’t stay long enough. The story is told through two separate time lines, flashing back and forth between them. In one instance, when a switch took place, I wanted more of the past. Then in the present, the shift between locations didn’t bring any levity, so boredom began to rise. These are small grains of sand at the beach, I might add. The world created this time around exactly depicts (to my understanding) the hard times during the War, domestic life, clothing, and much more. Every little detail pays off and makes you appreciate the freedom some have today. However, these hard times are what drive Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren) to keep fighting.
Helen Mirren plays her character with a number of still faces. Her expression conveys a year’s worth of heartache and pain in just one look. Whether it is just a few seconds or a week-long adventure, you can relate to the pain she goes through as the film transitions from the present to past. At times the transition isn’t as swift as it could’ve been, leaving one frustrated with the air of cutting a certain memory short. However, in the long haul, it does its justice.
Mirren plays a character who finds light in the darkest of places. She doesn’t allow things she can’t control to drive her life, and always looks at the glass half full. I felt I understood Maria Altman through Helen’s performance. Ryan Reynolds does a fine job as well. He’s a notable actor, but I feel anyone could’ve played this part. He is quite as kept, and lets his emotions show briefly only towards the end.
Woman in Gold is moving. If nothing else, it will inspire you to go after what’s yours and fight for justice. It defines what sentimental value really is, and crafts a story of an exemplary woman for the masses. The film can teach you how to overcome obstacles and choose your battles wisely. With great performances and set designs, the movie paints a picture of what can be beautiful in the world when seen through someone else’s perspective.
The film contains one of the better endings I’ve seen in a while, wrapping up everything nicely with a bow and glitter on top. It can make you appreciate the small things in life, and ignore all the meaningless luggage we all decide to carry around. I left the theatre feeling good, and smiling, wanting to share the experience with everyone. You would no doubt feel the same after watching Woman in Gold.