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Buddy Cops: The Next Generations

Updated on May 1, 2015
Randol Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds, left) and Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren, center) gaze into the eyes of a masterpiece in "Woman in Gold".
Randol Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds, left) and Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren, center) gaze into the eyes of a masterpiece in "Woman in Gold". | Source

Written on 04/25/2015, film first viewed by author on 04/20/2015

We are the "know-it-all" generation, or at least, that is what want to believe. That is the idea that is being sold to the "Millennials" or "Generation Y" or whatever we are. It seems that if the current twenty-somethings want to fork over enough cash, they can buy knowledge. And why not? Supposedly, all that anyone needs to know can be accessed through a smartphone, or a television with the right entertainment console, or a rigged-up application in a car, of all things! (As if cell phones were not already distracting enough to increasingly more distracted drivers.) Thus, we truly believe our inheritance of the earth is complete. We think we do not need education or experience if our phones can send us to Wikipedia. World hunger is over if we can order pizza via a T.V. screen. What's a compass or a map if Siri can direct one where to go from a screen lodged into the middle of their dashboard? Right?

Not so fast! Every generation, no matter how "less advanced" their technologies seem now, always thought they were better than their past relatives. For example: the World War II generation, perhaps the pinnacle of human evolution (for several reasons if one reads a history book), eventually settled down into an age of good feelings that began around 1946 (or at least, in most Western countries). Their children were known as the Baby Boomers, because the population "boomed" thanks to men and women getting back together after the war. Need I explain further? American kids and teenagers of the 1950s were allowed to fully enjoy the spoils of the post-WWII civilization that their parents secured through sacrifice and hard work. Guess what? The Leave-it-to-Beavers and Dennis-the-Menaces, pampered by drive-in diners, high school letterman jacket fantasies, and that crazy sound called "rock-and-roll", were sent to good colleges back when college education was a solid investment, and most of them automatically started to believe that they were "more enlightened" than their parents. The Vietnam War didn't make generational tensions any cooler. Based on arguably solid experiences, the WWII generation believed war was a necessary evil, but the generation after them included protestors and draft-dodgers, a population that increasingly disliked war as the answer and American global policing. The point here is not that the Vietnam War was right, or that all Baby Boomers are deadbeats, or that every person of the "Greatest Generation" was great. The points are that 1.) many generations do not properly learn from the successes or failures of their elders. 2.) the latest generation tends to automatically dismiss the advice of their elders, and 3.) different generations do more fighting than reconciling, and reconciliation could result it some very creative solutions to real world problems. In short, the American generations of these past three decades and closing (1990-2020) think they have real problems. If only they listen to their elders, before they are gone, will they realize that they have no idea what a real problem is.

"Woman in Gold" is available for DVD and Bluray pre-order.

Maria Altmann, a protagonist and inciting-incident character of Simon Curtis' new biopic Woman in Gold, was a victim of a real problem. Most of her family, their entire fortune, and their beloved home was taken from her by force. Altmann (Helen Mirren) grew into young adulthood in a prosperous Jewish Austrian family, but had to flee her homeland with her husband when the Nazis took over. Of many things the Nazis stole from Altmann, the most prized object of monetary value was a painting known in Austria as "Woman in Gold", which was more accurately a commissioned work depicting her favorite aunt. Living in the U.S., Altman discovers a letter that her recently departed sister had in her possession which tells of efforts to recover artwork, including "Woman in Gold", from the Austrian government under the condition that they were illegally seized at the time they left their family. Though her sister was unsuccessful in her venture, Altmann decides to start where she left off and hires Randol Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds), a struggling lawyer who has little experience in the field of art restitution, to help her bring "Woman in Gold" back to her family.

Schoenberg's new firm agrees to let him temporarily go to Austria with Altmann, his initial motivation (and his firm's only motivation) being the potential payout with a legal victory over the Austrians. However, as Altmann's "old-fashioned ways" begin to rub off on Schoenberg, and as he begins to reassociate with his own Jewish heritage after visiting a Holocaust memorial in Vienna, he realizes that the fight for "Woman in Gold" means so much more than winning money.

Woman in Gold is a film that has a lot to teach. Not only is it emotionally engaging, but this author admits to squirming in his seat from historical-nerding-out-overload. There is something incredibly rewarding about viewing a film that strikes a chord through decades of history, and provides something very relevant. This relevant topic ties in nicely to the beginning of our discussion; the tango of generations. In the beginning of the film, Schoenberg finds the elder Altmann somewhat out-of-date, stuffy, and humorless; seemingly unrelatable to him. She even calls him out on this, and though he attempts to remain polite, his feelings do show. In contrast, Schoenberg is more "hip" and up with the times. In a weird way, Woman in Gold has that "buddy cop" feel. The older character, that has experience in a certain territory, reluctantly enlists the help of the younger character that is less appreciative of antiquity, but is skilled to do battle with the new, common enemy. It is the differences in their generations, and the need for something different from themselves, that actually brings the polar-opposites of Altmann and Schoenberg together, and they end up fighting for a great common goal: justice for one victim that becomes justice for victims of the past, present, and the future. They put aside their generational differences, and combine their strengths, to literally serve the good of all generations.

There is also something to say about generations of cultures as wholes. In the film, Austria definitely has a strange atmosphere. A cloud of guilt looms over the people and places, a bloody stain left by neighbors betraying neighbors out of fear and coercion. However, a cultural and legal facade attempts to cover this stain. It is a whole country dealing with a bad case of denial; a giant broom trying to sweep a giant conversation under a giant rug. One almost can't help but think that the Austrian big-wig characters are still adopted Nazis, afraid that the ghost of Hitler will come back and get them. They insist that their museum and their government had nothing to do with the Nazi theft. Though technically true, the opposing argument is also technically true. The Nazis were the government at the time, and therefore the Austrian government did steal the artwork, and it should have been returned after the Nazis were defeated. The current generation of Austrians (in the film) are not willing to openly admit to the wrongdoings that their WWII generation committed, and therefore they let injustice linger. They had yet to learn from the mistakes of their predecessors. It is hard to be forgiven if the guilty party pretends to forget.

Director Simon Curtis should keep up the good work. Woman in Gold is a great follow-up to his feature film debut My Week with Marilyn (another good film in its own right). Helen Mirren is as capable as ever, and brought her awesome presence as she always does. This author was moderately impressed with Ryan Reynold's Schoenberg, a character with a well-planned story arc. The parallels of Altmann's young and adult life are well written, well-composed photographically, and well directed; weaving together the tapestry of one generation bridging over to another. As people often forget, history does repeat itself, and not necessarily in the same form. If one generation can lend an open ear to another, lessons would be learned and real problems could be solved.

View the trailer to "Woman in Gold"

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