A monument to what could have been

Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren) and her attorney Randy Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds)

‘Woman in Gold’

Starring Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds, directed by Simon Curtis, Rated PG-13


This movie illustrates in depth what “Monuments Men” tried to but came up woefully short. It is the real story of the provenance and ownership of the famous Gustav Klimt painting of Adele Bloch-Bauer, which was confiscated by the Nazis during World War II.

Bloch-Bauer, the wife of a wealthy Austrian industrialist, posed not once, but twice, for Klimt — the only one of his subjects to do so. She died before the war and muddled the true ownership of the painting with her will, which gave the paintings — and other works of art — to the Austrian State Museum. But the question many, many years later was did she actually have the rights to those paintings.

Helen Mirren stars as Maria Altmann, Bloch-Bauer’s niece who escaped the horrors of the war by coming to America, where she resided in Los Angeles until her recent death. She captured world attention when she and her attorney, Randol “Randy” Schoenberg (played here by Ryan Reynolds), sued the Austrian government in an American court for the right to get the painting, and others back — a bold move for, as one character put it, the painting was “the Mona Lisa of Austria.”

This is as much a legal thriller as it is the very personal and tragic story of the Bloch-Bauer family, which is told in flashbacks with Tatiana Maslany of “Orphan Black” fame playing the younger Maria and Max Irons (son of Jeremy Irons) as her husband, Fritz. And in a remarkable bit of casting, Antje Traue plays the young Adele and bears a striking resemblance to her as close-ups of the painting reveal.

The driving force of the movie is the relationship between the older Maria and younger Randy, who is, by turns, anxious to help her and realistic about the sacrifices he will have to make to do it. Maria is also torn between her desire to retrieve her family’s treasures and the reality of returning to Austria to do it after vowing she would never go back. This back and forth is punctuated with flashbacks about her pre-war life in Austria and are revealing in their nature about her own losses and fears.

This rapport between the two characters is very reminiscent of another recent movie, “Philomena,” the true account of an Irish woman’s attempts to locate the son she gave up for adoption decades ago. Judi Dench and Steve Coogan shared the same type of familial relationship that Mirren and Reyolds do. Both women are older, outspoken and frank to a fault — and also very maternal with their counterparts.

Some characters do get pushed aside for the sake of the story, including Katie Holmes as Randy’s wife, Pam, who makes a few brief appearances. German actor Daniel Bruhl (“Rush”) figures into the story as an Austrian journalist eager to help Maria and Randy.

Directed by Simon Curtis, the story is told with economy and precision that might have had a more negative effect had the story not been so compelling. A little more background on Maria’s post-war life would have been nice, but the story chooses to jump directly to present day. In general, deeper character development could have enhanced this movie, but even without it the story stands on its own.

There are at least three more documentaries available on this subject, “Maria’s Wish,” “Stealing Klimt” and “The Rape of Europa,” which was also the basis for “Monuments Men.”

‘The Sound of Music’

The recent ABC special about the filming of “The Sound of Music” was revealing and proved, once again, just how beloved this musical is to generations of fans. You’ll have a chance for a more active participation when “The Sound of Music” sing-a-long, a Fathom Event, comes to theaters on April 19, with a repeat on April 22. Check fathomevents.com for information.