It’s strange that a movie about such a valuable painting isn’t really a masterpiece, but more of a paint-by-numbers film, without a single bit of originality. That doesn’t mean it’s bad. It’s like the painting your kid did in kindergarten. You praised and put on the refrigerator, but threw out a week later and never thought about it again.
It’s the case of Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren) suing the Austrian government for the return of a Gustav Klimt painting of her aunt. The Nazis stole it from her, and a gallery is intent on keeping their most popular painting.
Director Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) gives us a drama that’s satisfying, and actually gets decent performances out of Ryan Reynolds and Katie Holmes.
Reynolds plays the lawyer that takes the case, and it was smart for Curtis to not make him to cavalier about it all. He’s obviously talking to Altmann as a favor to his mom, but he does seem interested in her story. Googling how much the painting is worth ($100 million), sparks his interest even more. You can’t blame him for that.
Holmes isn’t given a lot to do, other than be the supportive wife. It’s the two Altmann’s that steal the show. The always incredible Helen Mirren, and Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black, Eastern Promises) as the younger version whose dodging the Nazis in flashback scenes.
Despite the fact that we know she escaped, there’s still a bit of drama watching the various scenes in her town. You can’t help but worry, watching a loving family. The dad playing his cello and trying to act normal for the sake of his children, or watching as he’s sick in bed and realizing he might never see his little girl again.
There’s a point in the movie where we find out lawyer E. Randol Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds) is related to Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg. You realize a documentary on this story would’ve been far better than this film (and a search shows that a few have been made – Adele’s Wish, The Rape of Europa, and Stealing Klimpt).
Schoenberg has a new job with a firm that isn’t interested in his fight for the painting, which they don’t think has a chance at winning. Probably not the best timing that the big boss is played by Charles Dance, who we recently saw playing the exact same character in The Imitation Game, constantly thinking those guys didn’t have a chance at building a computer that would figure out the Nazi codes.
Daniel Bruhl, who was my favorite part of the Ron Howard film Rush, plays an interesting character here. He’s a journalist trying to help them out when they arrive in Austria looking for answers.
Jeremy Irons son Max plays Frederick, the new husband of Altmann. He was fine in the role, but not given a lot to do.
The film was shot nicely, and there were a few touches of levity that worked. It was surprisingly compelling, considering we know the outcome.
I was reminded of producer Harvey Weinstein’s much better picture – Philomena (Judi Dench/Steve Coogan). It’s a similar story and better on every imaginable level.
Yet this warmed my heart and it’s a nice history lesson.
3 stars out of 5.