Any failings this film has are offset by what it got right. Some called it manipulative, and to a degree it is. But how can you show the events that occurred and not make it feel manipulative? The moments are shocking, and need to be. They are horrifying, not just because they occurred, but because they feel like they could occur again; or even are as the rise of extremism is rampant once more in the world today. Basically, if you aren’t uncomfortable you aren’t really understanding what you’re watching. But being made uncomfortable (and the images shown are G-rated tame) isn’t manipulative in and of itself. In this case it was necessary.
At its core, this isn’t a movie about restitution and justice, though those certainly are the framework about which it is cast. The core of this film is about two very personal journeys of acceptance, peace, and direction. Mirren (The Hundred-Foot Journey) and Reynolds (The Voices) make an odd combination that, somehow, works as they navigate their way through events, much as their real-life counter-parts. Mirren, naturally, outshines her counter-part, but Reynolds gives plenty and takes his character on a journey just as complex as hers, if not as obvious.
As the young Mirren, Maslany (Violet & Daisy) manages to vanish. She is a near perfect physical match for a young Mirren in this film and, as such, you forget it is a different actress. Maslany continues to impress me with her range. Hopefully, with roles like these, she will start to get the notice she has been denied by the awards committees so far simply because she is top-lining a science fiction show.
Playing a pivotal character, I got to see Brühl (Eva) work his screen magic for the second time in almost as many weeks. He is more facilitator than character in the story, but was integral in the real story. What is odd is that he projects a mist of menace with undefined motivations for much of the story. Even once those motivations are revealed, I had trouble matching his comments and actions to the source. This was a combination of writing and directing issues, but nothing damaging to the result, just a bit distracting for me. Getting to see him in a different role, not to mention a different language, was a nice extra.
Even Holmes (Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark) turns in a reasonable performance for a change. Gone is her little girl mystique and, instead, she gives us a confused wife who supports her family without giving up her own identity. Though she is very much in the background in this story, a lot is imparted in just a few scenes. Equally effective as the enigmatic Adele, Traue (Seventh Son) brings the titular Woman in Gold to life and makes her as tangible for us as she was for the real-life Maria Altmann.
Though a true tale, director Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) marshaled the talented cast and crew so that adaptation by first-time writer, Campbell’s script never felt like a documentary, nor like it was overly short-cutted as so many historicals can become. He never lost track of the fact that this was an entertainment.
While certainly emotional, this film is enjoyable both for the characters and the results. You may even learn a bit of the history: art and political. Dame Mirren is almost always worth the time, regardless of the story anyway, but there is definitely more meat on the bones here than just her.