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SYNOPSIS: Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren), an octogenarian Jewish refugee, takes on the government to recover artwork she believes rightfully belongs to her family. (Based on a true story)

Review by Louise Keller:
It's an extraordinary story but sadly the film is not. Plodding and mechanical instead of involving and moving, the film fails to sweep us away on what should be a hugely emotional journey. As a consequence, this story about wartime art theft, preserving heritage and fighting for justice pales into muted colours of disappointment. The unfortunate casting of the usually fabulous Helen Mirren compounds the film's many jarring elements: her fake Austrian accent prises us out of the film's reality as surely as her French one did in The Hundred Foot Journey. For the undemanding, the elements and imagery of the story may be enough to offer an enjoyable outing, but it could have been so much more.

First time screenwriter Simon Curtis has written a perfunctory screenplay that flits back and forth in two time frames outlining the narrative's crucial elements; My Week With Marilyn director Simon Curtis fails to cohesively inject passion. The present day narrative begins in Los Angeles in 1998, when Austrian Jewish Holocost survivor Maria Altmann (Mirren) is reminded of the traumas of the past, and in particular the fate of a painting by Gustav Klimt in which her beloved Aunt Adele Bloch-Bauer was the model. Her mission is to reclaim what rightfully belongs to her family.

Propelled by an innate sense to keep the memories of the past alive, the early scenes in which Maria recruits Randy Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds), a struggling young lawyer with impeccable Austrian lineage to help her reclaim the paintings that belonged to her wealthy family, are less than inspiring. Considered to be Austria's Mona Lisa, the dazzling portrait, strikingly embellished with gold leaf and hanging in Vienna's Belvedere, is worth millions but for Maria, it is not about the money. Reynolds never feels quite right in the role of acclaimed Austrian Jewish composer Arnold Schoenberg's grandson; his epiphany scene after visiting Vienna's Holocost memorial when he finally connects emotionally to his roots, pounding his fists against the wall plays false. Intellectually, we understand the enormity of the moment but it does not translate emotionally.

There are moments during the flashback sequences when we get a sense of the elegant lifestyle of the Altmann family and Maria's special relationship with her aunt in the lead up to the Anschluss. Beautiful antique furniture, paintings, chandeliers, the breathtaking diamond choker necklace worn in the painting... We are there during Maria's childhood; her joyous wedding to an opera singer; their escape from Austria. I love the scene in which Adele (Antje Traue, well cast) and the impressionable young Maria sit before the portrait and discuss its likeness. Tatiana Maslany is also effective as the young adult Maria, faced with leaving her parents and country, to seek a new life. But the farewell scene, when clunky dialogue demands her father (Allan Corduner) to state they must now speak English the language of the future, is unfortunate.

The legal case against the Austrian Government that ends up in the Supreme Court is monumental as it forms the crux of the narrative, although there is always a barrier that keeps us at arms length. I would have preferred had the depiction of the Austrian officials been less black and white, but I did enjoy visiting Vienna - the plush red lounge of the Sacher Hotel, the Belvedere and its glorious gardens and other landmarks. Daniel Bruhl is an asset as the journalist who helps Maria and Randy and there is no shortage of top talent, including Jonathan Pryce, Elizabeth McGovern, Frances Fisher, Max Irons, Katie Holmes, Moritz Bleibtreu and Charles Dance, even if their wellknown faces may often detract rather than enhance.

As for the music score (credited to Hans Zimmer and others), it is heavy and uninspiring. Surprising for the all-important musical accompaniment to a story so rich in beauty and passion.

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(US/UK, 2015)

CAST: Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds, Daniel Bruhl, Charles Dance, Katie Holmes, Elizabeth McGovern, Tatiana Maslany, Max Irons, Jonathan Pryce, Tom Schilling, Moritz Bleibtrau, Allan Corduner, Frances Fisher

PRODUCER: David M. Thompson, Kris Thykier

DIRECTOR: Simon Curtis

SCRIPT: Alexi Kaye Campbell (book by Maria Altmann, E. Randol Schoenberg)


EDITOR: Peter Lambert

MUSIC: Martin Phipps, Hans Zimmer


RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes



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