Seek­ing re­dress for a Nazi theft

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Reviews - Stephen Romei

Woman in Gold (M) Na­tional re­lease Poltergeist 3D (M) Na­tional re­lease

Ah, He­len Mir­ren, you’ve done it again. As some­one who has fol­lowed Mir­ren’s work since she burst on to the screen op­po­site James Ma­son in Michael Pow­ell’s Dunk Is­land-filmed Age of Con­sent, I can’t think of a time when she has dis­ap­pointed.

We will all have our favourite Mir­ren mo­ments but my top-of-the-head ones are in Age of Con­sent, Pat O’Con­nor’s IRA drama Cal (1984), Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover (1989), as long-suf­fer­ing So­fya Tol­stoy in Michael Hoffman’s The Last Sta­tion (2009) and, tow­er­ingly, as DCI (later DS) Jane Ten­ni­son in the Bri­tish tele­vi­sion crime se­ries Prime Sus­pect.

Age of Con­sent came out in 1969 (so per­haps I caught it a few years later), when Mir­ren was a 24-year-old Royal Shake­speare Com­pany regular. She turns 70 in July and while it may be true that se­ri­ous roles are few and far be­tween for older fe­male ac­tors, it is not the case for her. She won an Os­car in 2006 as El­iz­a­beth II in Stephen Frears’s The Queen, and I bet it won’t be her last.

is an­other true-life story. Mir­ren is Maria Alt­mann, an Aus­trian Jew who fled Vi­enna as the Nazis moved in. She lives in Los An­ge­les and we are in the early 1990s. When her sis­ter dies, Maria finds a let­ter in her ef­fects that de­ter­mines her to try to re­cover five Gus­tav Klimt paint­ings the Nazis stole from her fam­ily, now held in Vi­enna’s Belvedere Gallery.

The most fa­mous piece, known as Woman in Gold, is a por­trait of Maria’s aunt Adele. “Peo­ple see a por­trait by one of Aus­tria’s most fa­mous pain­ters,’’ Maria says. “I see a pic­ture of my aunt.’’ Maybe so, but this paint­ing is “the Mona Lisa of Aus­tria” and the na­tional gov­ern­ment is not about to give it up.

Maria hires a cal­low young lawyer, Randy Schoen­berg (Canadian ac­tor Ryan Reynolds), be­cause he is the son of a friend. He also hap­pens to be the great-grand­son of the Aus­trian com­poser Arnold Schoen­berg, a blood­line that be­comes im­por­tant to him, and to the story.

On one level, direc­tor Simon Curtis ( My Week With Mar­i­lyn) and screen­writer Alexi Kaye Camp­bell de­liver a tense court­room drama that un­folds in Vi­enna and the US, where the case goes all the way to the Supreme Court. If you don’t know the story (I didn’t) I rec­om­mend you re­sist the temp­ta­tion to Google and savour the sus­pense. The court­room scenes are strong, but this con­tem­po­rary story also holds the film’s weak­est mo­ments. There are too many slow scenes where the legal pro­ceed­ings are ex­plained rather than shown.

Hav­ing said that, the chem­istry be­tween Mir­ren and Reynolds is won­der­ful. She is part fussy mother, wip­ing a speck from his suit be­fore court, part woman of the world who ap­pre­ci­ates a hand­some man when she sees one. Reynolds builds on his ex­cel­lent work in Atom Egoyan’s The Cap­tive, pro­duc­ing an­other char­ac­ter who first seems.

There’s also much to en­joy in the sup­port­ing roles: Katie Holmes as Randy’s wife, Charles Dance as the stern (what else?) boss of Randy’s law firm, Daniel Bruhl as a cru­sad­ing Vi­en­nese jour­nal­ist, Jonathan Pryce and El­iz­a­beth Mc­Gov­ern as se­nior US judges and Ben Miles (Hi­lary Man­tel’s Thomas Cromwell on stage) as cos­met­ics mogul and art lover Ron­ald Lauder.

The sec­ond, more grip­ping, sto­ry­line is the his­tor­i­cal one: the fate that be­falls Maria and her pros­per­ous fam­ily as Europe tilts to­wards mad­ness in the late 30s. Ta­tiana Maslany is ter­rific as the young Maria, newly wed to hand­some Fredrick Alt­mann (Max Irons, son of Jeremy and Sinead Cu­sack, and a model for good genes). She is de­voted to her par­ents, but she knows, and they know, that flight is her only hope for a fu­ture.

There are sev­eral pow­er­ful scenes, but the one that lingers has the Nazis dili­gently do­ing an in­ven­tory of the fam­ily’s pos­ses­sions. There’s a paint­ing that will end up on Hitler’s wall, a neck­lace that will go into Mrs Her­mann Go­er­ing’s jew­ellery box.

It’s a re­minder that this ex­is­ten­tial threat to civil­i­sa­tion hap­pened in the life­times of peo­ple still living. As Maria says, she doesn’t want the paint­ing back be­cause it’s worth $US100 mil­lion, but so that peo­ple will be know what hap­pened, so that peo­ple will not for­get.

In the flash­backs to Maria’s life in cul­tured Vi­enna, sump­tu­ously shot by Aus­tralian cine­matog­ra­pher Ross Emery, there’s a ter­ri­ble sense — be­cause we know what is to come — of the slen­der threads that hold the world to­gether. Pass­ing the city’s Academy of Fine Arts, Randy muses in a touristy way: “It’s hard to be­lieve Hitler once ap­plied to be an art stu­dent here.’’ Maria’s re­sponse is im­me­di­ate: “I wish they’d ac­cepted him.’’

is more com­pli­cated than he My mem­ory of Poltergeist was that it was one of the less scary of the pos­sessed-house films popular in the late 70s and early 80s. This rec­ol­lec­tion was re­con­firmed last Hal­loween when I watched it with a cou­ple of eight-yearolds. I was far more un­set­tled by The Ami­tyville Hor­ror and Stan­ley Kubrick’s The Shin­ing . I sup­pose it de­pends on what fright­ens you; I’m more wor­ried about mad hu­mans than an­gry ghosts.

But if Poltergeist did make you jump back in 1982, then Gil Ke­nan’s re­make, is sure to re­peat the dose. It’s faith­ful to the orig­i­nal, with some updating: the haunted TV, for ex-

Woman in Gold, Poltergeist, am­ple, has a much big­ger screen in 2015. And if clowns scare you, as they do a lot of peo­ple, make sure you go with some­one you can grab on to.

For those who haven’t seen the orig­i­nal, here’s the set-up: a fam­ily — hus­band, wife, three kids — moves to an un­fash­ion­able hous­ing es­tate af­ter dad loses his job. Strange things start to hap­pen — fur­ni­ture mov­ing by it­self and the like — and it soon emerges the es­tate is built over a grave­yard and the spir­its of the dead are not happy about it.

Ke­nan es­tab­lishes this with ad­mirable econ­omy: within min­utes we see the youngest child, Madi­son (Kennedi Cle­ments), push­ing a stick into the grass — and watch­ing in fas­ci­na­tion as it is pushed back up. Maddy is cap­tured by the poltergeists and re­moved to their non-hu­man realm. The fam­ily can hear her some­times, usu­ally through the TV, but not see her. The ac­tion of the film is the at­tempt to res­cue her.

Young ac­tors Cle­ments and Kyle Catlett, as the scared but brave older brother, are con­vinc­ing, while Sam Rock­well and Rose­marie De­Witt are easy to watch as their par­ents, es­pe­cially in the or­di­nary scenes where they vent about the frus­tra­tions of a house full of kids. Jared Har­ris is fun, too, as a battle-scarred ghost whis­perer.

This is a slick, fast-paced su­per­nat­u­ral hor­ror film that de­liv­ers its fair share of shocks — there’s a ter­rific scene in­volv­ing a power drill — but shouldn’t leave you need­ing to sleep with the lights on.

He­len Mir­ren in scene from

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