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article imageReview: 'The Monuments Men' is an artless misstep Special

By Kristal Cooper     Feb 7, 2014 in Entertainment
There's no question that the story behind George Clooney's latest film is a fascinating and important one. It's certainly one that deserves a film inspired enough to ensure the maximum number of people will seek it out and recommend it to others.
Unfortunately, as well-intentioned and well-acted as The Monuments Men is, it's just not that film.
Telling the story of the titular group of men who were tasked with saving the priceless paintings and artifacts stolen by Hitler during World War II, Clooney plays Frank Stokes, an American interested in preserving art history who gets the okay from President Roosevelt to put together a team and head into the heart of the fighting. That team includes Bill Murray, John Goodman, Matt Damon, Bob Balaban, Hugh Bonneville and Jean Dujardin (a.k.a. the French George Clooney). They're a ragtag bunch to be sure, but they're all equally invested in ensuring that the Nazis don't succeed in destroying the culture they hold so dear.
The Monuments Men is very much in keeping with the filmmaking style that Clooney has displayed thus far. He's a fan of old-fashioned story-telling and classic tales of unconventional heroism. He also imbues his films with a seriousness and air of importance that can sometimes come across as smug, which works okay in a movie about a possibly deluded gameshow host (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind) or an old school newsman (Good Night, and Good Luck) but doesn't translate when attempting to pull off what is essentially a heist picture. As it stands now, with Clooney's dry-as-dust aesthetic, The Monuments Men feels a bit too much like a history lecture, a fact that's only reinforced by the handful of scenes featuring Clooney actually standing at a podium doing just that.
So where does the film go wrong? Well, just think about the elements that make movies like Ocean's 11 or The Dirty Dozen so satisfying to watch: a group of men are recruited to complete a seemingly impossible task (in this case, our monuments men are told several times that this mission is basically set up to fail) and as we're introduced to them, we see that they each bring a special talent to the table which sets up the expectation that their expertise is going to deliciously pay off later in the film. Clooney's script has a group of men not only with no particular specialties other than a willingness to be there but also, and more maddeningly, no discernable personalities. That's practically a jailable offense when you consider the talent you're dealing with.
The film rushes through the motions of the men pairing up and rushing off to track down the stolen art, with no real stakes or conflict until a brief race-aganst-the-clock sequence at the end that's too little too late. Sure the film has a few notable moments but given they rely more on cheap heartstring-tugging and the charisma of the lead actors than on the substance of the subject matter, it doesn't make up for the film's numerous shortfalls. The entire movie feels like it's existing on the edge of a big, dramatic story that it never quite gets to participate in...and that's why The Monuments Men is the very picture of a perfectly artless way to honour a truly extraordinary story.
The Monuments Men opens on February 7, 2014.
More about the monuments men, George clooney, Matt Damon, Bill murray, john goodman
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