Richard Nisley

Daniel Brühl – an appreciation
Pop Culture Released - Aug 10, 2019
How many international actors has Austria produced? As far as I know, only one–Daniel Brühl. There's a playfulness to Brühl's acting that I find absolutely irresistible. It's evident in two recent movies in which he is given co-star billing: Ron Howard's F1 masterpiece, "Rush," and in the compelling drama of art restitution,"Woman in Gold."

In "Rush" Brühl portrays Ferrari's number-one driver Nikki Lauda, a humorless and deadly-series competitor who shunned friendship and, before retiring, won three world championships. Yet, in Brühl's compelling portrayal, Lauda comes off as not merely three-dimensional, but as likably human. We care about him, and root for him, even more so than we do for the star, heartthrob Chris Hemsworth, as the charismatic and flamboyant British driver James Hunt. Midway through the movie, when Lauda is badly hurt in a fiery crash, we feel his pain as he undergoes gruesome medical treatment. When he returns to the cockpit while still not fully recovered, we wonder at his courage, and are relieved when he pulls out of the final race of the season, due to heavy rainfall that has made the circuit unsafe, thus forfeiting his chance of winning yet another championship (with Lauda on the sidelines, Hunt won the 1976 title by a single point).

In "Woman in Gold", Brühl plays Viennese investigative journalist Hubertus Czernin. It's a small but critical role that Brühl manages to breathe life into, with his acting honesty and the slightest touch of self-deprecating humor. He's proud of his native Vienna despite his government's stubborn refusal to render justice by failing to return the "Woman in Gold" portrait to its rightful owner, Maria Altmann. "The government will never return the portrait to you," he tells Ms. Altmann's attorney, Randy Schoenberg. "She is 'The Mona Lisa of Austria'. Do you think they will just let her go?"

Near the end of the movie, while awaiting an arbitration hearing in Vienna, Randy Schoenberg invites Brühl (as Hubertus Czernin) to attend a concert featuring the chamber music of his famous grandfather, composer Arnold Schoenberg. The tickets seller notes the similarities of both Randy's and the composer's last name. "What a coincidence," says Brühl dryly, with the slightest touch of a smile. Later, after the mediation board orders the Belvedere Gallery to return the "Woman in Gold" to its rightful owner, Randy Schoenberg says to Czernin, "Did I mention I couldn't do it without you?" Deadpan, Brühl shrugs and answers, "No." Then smiles ever so slyly.

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