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Movie Review: "The Monuments Men"

Sony / Columbia(NEW YORK) -- The Monuments Men is based on a great story. During World War II, a group of art experts were sent to Europe to rescue what was left of the art Hitler had stolen from each country he'd invaded. These were brave men who were willing to sacrifice their lives to save the culture of the various societies Hitler was trying to destroy.
So kudos to George Clooney for attempting to bring this incredible story about true heroes to the big screen.  If only he had done a better job.
The one thing Clooney did right in The Monuments Men was assemble a fantastic cast: Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, recent Oscar-winner Jean Dujardin (who beat Clooney in 2012 to win for The Artist), Downton Abbey’s Hugh Bonneville, Bob Balaban, and the incomparable Cate Blanchett.  All of these people, save for Blanchett’s character, comprise the team Clooney’s Frank Stokes has assembled to enter Europe and go town to town in search of great works of art.
Even so, from the very beginning, the movie disappoints, as we see Stokes trying to convince FDR to give him the authority to assemble his team for the mission.  Clooney and co-writer Grant Heslov's dialog is nice, but the action and execution are unconvincing.  Sure, we know FDR is going to give his blessing to the mission -- we wouldn’t have a movie if he hadn't -- but the scene lacks tension.  We don’t really see FDR, we just hear his voice and, quite frankly, it's weak. It feels like the production quality you’d get from a decent college play, not from the team that gave us Good Night, and Good Luck, The Ides of March and last year’s best picture winner, Argo.  I was hoping this scene was just a misstep but the rest of the film plays out exactly the same.
Next we see Stokes travel around the country to recruit his team.  It’s an opportunity for us to see Clooney be his typically charming self, and again, every time he shows up, there’s no doubt whomever he’s pitching is going to sign on.  No tension, and just a suggestion of conflict.  You could argue that all of these men were chomping at the bit to contribute to the war in some way, but more desire to stay home with their families, or a lack of confidence in their ability, would have gone a long way in moving the action along.
Once in Europe, the Monuments Men break off into teams to chase down the art -- except for Matt Damon’s James Granger.  He goes to France, where he meets Cate Blanchett’s Claire Simone.  An art expert herself, she was forced to work with a Nazi art curator so by the time James meets Claire, she doesn’t trust anybody. James and Claire’s storyline is the movie's most interesting because they're the most fleshed-out characters, but even the undercurrent of sexual tension lacks tension.
Fundamentally, The Monuments Men relies on audiences having an emotional connection to World War II, playing on nostalgia for the era and disgust toward the Nazis.  It does little to lasso our emotions and immediately connect us to the action.   Instead, we’re lectured about why these pieces of art are important and we’re told about each character’s flaws and strengths.  There are some good moments in the film, but it’s a disjointed narrative with limited emotional impact.
Two-and-a-half out of five stars.

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