In the black-and-white photograph of her that appears briefly during the end credits of this true-life melodrama, Maria Altmann looks somewhat more interesting than her screen version.
The normally reliable Mirren, who played a cardboard-cutout of a hidebound and humourless French restaurateur in last year's The Hundred-Foot Journey, tackles another irascible elderly eccentric and comes off second best.
Her Altmann is more a collection of grating mannerisms than a character and the chemistry needed for the partnership with her much younger co-star Reynolds to work is fatally absent: what we're left with is a series of scenes whose function is expository, but whose effect is seldom dramatic.
The title's woman is Altmann's long-dead aunt, Adele Bloch-Bauer, an extravagantly gilded portrait of whom is the most fabled work of the Austrian symbolist Gustav Klimt. The painting was one of several Klimts (and many treasures) stolen from the prosperous Viennese Jewish family by the Nazis.
The new film tells the story of Altmann's eight-year campaign, with lawyer Randol Schoenberg (Reynolds) to have the works restored to her, in the face of ridicule and then implacable opposition from the Austrian authorities desperate to keep "Austria's Mona Lisa".
It's a gripping yarn but the film manages to drain much of the life from it. Curtis (My Week With Marilyn) and writer Alexi Kaye Campbell lose the heart of the story, interleaving courtroom scenes with flashbacks into lame, comic-book-deep wartime sequences which are presumably intended to underline how sentimentally important the paintings are to Maria. (A pity, then, that the film sidesteps the question of why she sold the main one for US$135 million as soon as she got it; Mirren even has the line, "Do you think this is about the money?")
Even more clunky is a sub-plot involving Katie Holmes as Schoenberg's wife, a woman so cretinously submissive that Tom Cruise must be kicking himself for letting her go. A handsome production design and some heartfelt performances in minor roles deliver incidental pleasures but the film as a whole feels like a wasted opportunity.
Cast: Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds, Daniel Bruhl, Katie Holmes, Charles Dance
Director: Simon Curtis
Running time: 110 mins
Rating: M (offensive language) In English and German with English subtitles
Verdict: A missed opportunity