The movie critics site “Rotten Tomatoes”calls “Woman in Gold” dull, which tells you pretty much all you need to know about “Rotten Tomatoes.” No, there are no explosions, no sex scenes, no CGI, just a well-acted, powerful story of how justice can take a long time to prevail, but given enough dedication, integrity and luck, it still does prevail with sufficient frequency to stave off despair.
“Woman in Gold” is a 2015 film starring Ryan Reynolds and Helen Mirren. It is a virtual docudrama telling the true story (mostly accurately) of Maria Altmann (Mirren), a plucky Jewish refugee in Los Angeles, who, assisted by her young lawyer, Randy Schoenberg, battled the government of Austria to obtain the return of Gustav Klimt’s renowned portrait of her aunt, Adele Bloch-Bauer. That painting, along with more by Klimt and other painters as well, were among the art treasures stolen by the Nazis prior to World War II. The legal battle ended up before the Supreme Court of the United States, and the conflict was finally settled by a shocking decision by an Austrian panel of mediators. You can read about the real case here.
It may be dull to dull minds, as Red Smith famously said about baseball, but I have seen the film twice now, and it moved me to tears both times. “Woman in Gold” shows once more, as I fervently believe, that right can and often does triumph over bureaucracies, greed, power and stupidity, and that lawyers, maligned as they are, are often essential to that process. Schoenberg shows us the epitome of a zealous and courageous lawyer, making personal and professional sacrifices for a cause he comes to believe is important both to his client and to humanity.
The movie also stands for film’s vital function in preserving and educating new generations about historical events that otherwise would be forgotten. Our rising generations, thanks to the rotting of the U.S. education system, are dangerously ignorant of history and culture. Well, if their teachers won’t and can’t enlighten them, movies like this one can help. How many millennial know about the Nazi art thefts, or the post-war battle by Jewish families to recover the wealth and artifacts stolen from them? How many of their teachers know about it?
Ethical issues highlighted: Justice, legal ethics, fairness, law vs. ethics, non-ethical considerations, courage, sacrifice, ethical dilemmas, corruption, loyalty, nationalism, integrity, rationalizations, exploitation, trust, gratitude.
Favorite quote: “We recommend opening the can and exacting the little worm with a pair of tweezers and shutting the can as quickly as possible.” Randol Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds) to the Austrian mediators.
That’s as good an explanation of the Ethics Incompleteness Principle as I have ever heard!