Audiences have come to expect excellence from George Clooney. In his latest film, "The Monuments Men," he directs, co-scripts and stars in what should have been an intriguing true story about saving art the Nazis stole during World War II. Instead, it falls flat on many levels.
At the end of the war, Frank Stokes (Clooney) convinces President Roosevelt to commission a group of men to steal back masterpieces Hitler's henchmen looted. Stokes assembles a small group of middle-aged art aficionados. Upon arriving in Normandy, the rag-tag connoisseurs fail to convince the war-weary commanding officers that risking lives is worth saving art. The Monuments Men are on their own.
Clooney opted to construct a positive war film by not lingering on the chaos that conflicts create. Instead, it's all about the mission and the dedication of these gallant "art soldiers." To his credit, he does dwell on the ruthless and destructive nature of the Nazi mentality. Not only was Hitler eager to unconscionably murder millions, he also ordered the annihilation of all artwork he could not possess. His enormous hatred for all that was precious is made abundantly clear in the film.
Clooney assembles an amazing cast that includes Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Hugh Bonneville and Cate Blanchett. But the lack of any real character development is bothersome. Moreover, some of the dialogue they're forced to utter is, at times, lame. And what little action takes place in the movie leaves a distinct craving for more.
"The Monuments Men" does soar in its gorgeous cinematography and perfectly pitched patriotic scoring. And Stokes delivers some exquisite and poignant oratories on the nature of art and its necessity to be preserved. A scene in which Matt Damon's character returns a stolen portrait to an abandoned Jewish residence and hangs it on the wall is so powerful it speaks volumes, wordlessly.
"The Monuments Men" does have its brilliant and humorous moments, but they are too few. It does stand as a tribute to the brave men who risked their lives (two died during the mission) to preserve and protect the achievements of mankind. In all, the Monuments Men saved 5 million pieces of artwork, the greatest collection in the history of the world. And that deserves recognition.
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