The Monuments Men

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monuments men pictureI got to the screening of this movie late, but understand a few art historians from the San Diego Museum of Art talked about this real life story. Well, one of those real life stories where lots of stuff is fictionalized to make for a more entertaining movie (Matt Damon ending up stuck on a landmine and in a romance, or Bob Balaban and Bill Murray just happening to run into a main character at dinner). This is a true story that would’ve been a great read in Time Magazine, but instead comes off as a mediocre movie. It’s the “Inglorious Curators.”

Clooney may have had his heart in the right place, but making a film that was Oceans 11 meets MASH, with a dash of Saving Private Ryan…ends up feeling like you’re listening to a two-hour art lecture.

Clooney, who always has that Cary Grant charm, also brings a touch of Clark Gable, as Frank Stokes. He’s an art historian that’s worried about the masterpieces that have been stolen by the Nazis. They’re going to create an art museum for Hitler, and President Roosevelt lets Stokes assemble a task force of artists that will track these paintings and sculptures. Since the young art lovers are already over there fighting, this means we get to see some out of shape, older folks recruited for the job – John Goodman, Bill Murray, and his Moonrise Kingdom costar Bob Balaban.

The movie starts off slow, with a few cute gags about the guys trying to survive basic training (and everyone in the audience thinking of Bill Murray in Stripes). Then it’s off to Europe to track down some art.

It easy to point out the things I don’t care for with this picture. The fact that you never have a sense of danger, even when these guys get right up to the front and are involved in gunfire. Maybe it’s the self-congratulatory vibe and the many speeches about the importance of art. Even the score by Alexandre Desplat was a tad annoying. It’s like Clooney wanted to make yet another period piece, going back to a time when Hollywood did war pictures without all the bloodshed and with audiences cheering the good guys, and booing the Nazis. It all just rang a bit false for me. Perhaps doing a film that’s a throwback to Hollywood’s Golden Age, just doesn’t work when we’ve had so many war pictures (usually with the Vietnam era) showing us just how horrible war is.

That doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy some aspects of it. You’ve got Cate Blanchett working with the Nazis and falling for Damon. You have Murray and Balaban always at each in a playful way. And there’s Clooney, giving those pep talks to rally the troops (with that Desplat score coming up underneath him). Oy vey.

The pacing of this movie is all over the map, and I was a tad disappointed that some of the characters and stories were rushed through.

I also thought about the many movies I’ve seen over the years about art. Most of them really educate you on an aspect of art you hadn’t thought about. It really gets you to appreciate it in a completely different way. This movie didn’t do that. It was a missed opportunity for what is an interesting part of history few even knew about. Instead, we get a generic war picture.

Most audiences will love watching their favorite actors casually strut onto the beaches of Normandy, and many will applaud as the credits role (they sure did at the screening I attended).

I’m only giving it 2 stars out of 5.

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