It’s still the time of year where movies just seem to run together in a way that makes them devoid of anything special or unique.
Though Hollywood isn’t quite out of this annual funk, the cinematic landscape is starting to escape from the winter wasteland where films go to die and emerging in a spring season that gives moviegoers hope for a quality 2015.
“Woman in Gold,” despite its flaws, is one of those films that viewers can hang their hopes on, thanks in large part to the acting prowess of Dame Helen Mirren.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to regular moviegoers that her dynamic on-screen talent can mesmerize viewers to believe the unbelievable and ignore flaws within the filmmaking.
Morgan Freeman — and to a lesser extent Meryl Streep — have this same ability.
Based on a true story, “Woman in Gold” finds Mirren portraying elderly Austrian immigrant Maria Altmann seeking to be reunited with a famed portrait of her aunt stolen from her family by the Nazis and held in legal red tape by Austria.
The film is well-intentioned, but doesn’t really quite have a true direction, which should fall at the feet of either director Simon Curtis, screenwriter Alexi Kaye Campbell or both.
Within “Woman in Gold” are three distinctive movies that feel like puzzle pieces that fit together without mashing, but yet are just off enough to not be in the right spot.
There’s the period drama that focuses on a young girl’s escape from a Nazi-controlled Austria, there’s the courtroom battle drama which finds a mediocre attorney given the case of his lifetime and then there’s the somber reflection drama where an old woman seeks to reclaim a part of her family legacy.
Put bluntly, “Woman in Gold” is “Schindler’s List,” “A Few Good Men” and “Philomena” all wrapped into one slightly misshapen package.
But the film works thanks to its leading lady.
If Helen Mirren says you should take co-star Ryan Reynolds seriously as a fledgling young attorney, then you by golly better take him seriously.
Indeed, Reynolds gives an admirable effort as Mirren’s lawyer Schoenberg, though it’s still hard to overcome the sly grin subtly belying the actor’s performance.
It’s as if Reynolds is constantly faced with an overwhelming wave of smarmy typecasting that he bravely swims upstream against in “Woman in Gold,” but the Canadian actor has yet to overcome the stigma of his filmography the way Bradley Cooper did with films like “Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Sniper.”
Reynolds, in a dramatic role, only works when Mirren is able to elevate the scene as a whole.
The film’s secondary stars are a mixed bag as Katie Holmes is given almost nothing to do in a wasted role, while Golden Globe nominee Daniel Brühl does yeoman’s work in a critical expository role as an Austrian contact for Mirren and Reynolds.
The real emerging star of “Woman in Gold” is Tatiana Maslany of “Orphan Black” fame, whose performance as a young Maria, living as a Jewish woman in Austria during World War II, gives the film — and Mirren’s performance — the weight needed to resonate with viewers.
While the transitions in and out of flashback sequences featuring Maslany are clunky to say the best, each time viewers are established in the WWII-era, the film speeds along.
“Woman in Gold” establishes itself as the second landmark film in the latter stages of Mirren’s career, joining her work as Queen Elizabeth II in 2006’s “The Queen” as one of the best performances in her illustrious, four-decade career.
Her decadent work is worth the price of admission alone in an otherwise flawed, but successful period drama.