It is estimated that today there are still more than 100,000 artworks looted by the Nazis that have never been accounted for and therefore not returned to their rightful owners. This scandalous state of affairs is well worth highlighting, and the David and Goliath story of Maria Altman versus the Austrian state and the subsequent restitution of five Klimt paintings by the Belvedere Gallery might seem at first sight to be an ideal vehicle for doing so. Unfortunately the opportunity is missed. For a start, there is very little attempt to show Maria Altman’s case in the context of the huge extent of this scandal, apart from a brief caption before the end credits roll; and the movie has been so exclusively constructed around the narrative arc of Maria Altman’s story that the problem of the thousands of Jewish families who have been denied restitution is eclipsed
This might be justified if the movie could claim to be a good movie by other criteria. But it can’t. It is an overblown and over-long confection served up with huge dollops of schmaltz. Although Director Simon Curtis is served well by cinematographer Ross Emery and production designer Jim Clay who conjure up highly authentic visuals of Vienna in the late thirties, we only ever get the sense of one very wealthy and privileged Jewish family’s persecution. There is no sense of jeopardy, because it is well documented that the case was won and the paintings returned in 2006. There is one rather cliché-ridden sequence where the young Maria and husband are fleeing Austria and escape the chasing Nazis by the skin of their teeth. But of course we already know that they escaped.
There are no strong or bonds or fraught relationships. We are not required to invest in any emotional attachment to the characters. In fact the movie is no more than dramatized documentary. There is one short scene where lawyer Randol Schoenburg (played by Ryan Reynolds) momentarily loses his cool with his client which leaps out at you by very nature of the fact that it goes so against the polite, well-mannered and lacklustre grain of the rest of the movie. Of course we all like a feisty lady of certain age, pace P L Travers in Saving Mr Banks and Judi Dench's Philomena. Helen Mirren does feisty in her sleep. And indeed she seems to be sleepwalking her way through rather pointless movie.