Friday, February 7, 2014

Review: The Monuments Men

Image courtesy of Columbia Pictures.
George Clooney's "The Monuments Men" is not the bomb you might expect it to be if you've been browsing Rotten Tomatoes during the past few days. It's surely not the Oscar hopeful that it was once believed to be, but it's an amusing enough war-time drama with a unique twist.

One of the film's problems is that it is short on characterization, relying more on the personas of its talented cast to fill in the blanks. So, in other words, you're watching Bill Murray or Matt Damon in a World War II setting, rather than those actors delving into particular characters.

On the other hand, it's pretty entertaining and sheds light on a mission during the war that is rarely mentioned. I'd never heard of it.

In the film, Clooney plays Frank Stokes, an art historian who has been tasked with leading a platoon of architects, art specialists and several other non-combatants into Germany to safeguard works of art being eyed by the Nazis for Adolf Hitler's Fuhrer Museum or steal back ones that have already been snatched from locales across France and Belgium.

His team consists of a Who's Who of name actors, including Damon, Murray, Bob Balaban, Jean Dujardin, Hugh Bonneville and John Goodman. Cate Blanchett also turns up as a resistance fighter and art gallery worker who provides clues to the team.

"The Monuments Men" remains fairly entertaining without ever being particularly intense. Although much is at stake in Stokes' team's mission, we're never given the indication that they are going to fail.

Clooney attempts to recreate the feel of a classic war drama, including "The Bridge on the River Kwai," which composer Alexandre Desplat appears to have used for inspiration here, or "The Train," which also featured a mission to prevent the Germans from getting their hands on art.

As a director, Clooney tends to be drawn to period pieces. "The Monuments Men" is not nearly as good as "Good Night and Good Luck," which is easily Clooney's best film behind the camera, and not quite as involving as the flawed, but interesting, "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind." His latest ranks more with the football movie "Leatherheads," which was enjoyable enough, if not the best representation of Clooney's talents. "The Monuments Men" is a somewhat lightweight entry into the canon of World War II movies, but it's likable nonetheless.

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