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The Monuments Men

March 1, 2014

The Monuments Men (2014)
Director: George Clooney
Actors: George Clooney, Matt Damon, John Goodman

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Synopsis: Lt Frank Stokes (George Clooney) leads a crack international team of art historians to protect and recover important works of art during the dying embers of WW2.

Review: George Clooney is clearly a cultured, intelligent and liberal-leaning man, so he naturally deserves credit for using his directorial clout not on a vapid star-vehicle but in giving this noble and well-intentioned little sub-story from the Second World War some publicity. That he struggles to really justify its dramatisation is less his fault, but more to do with an irreconcilable clash between the density (and indeed cerebral nature) of the story and the demands of two-hour feature film Hollywood storytelling – a TV serial or factual documentary would have been more suitable matches.

Part of the problem Clooney comes up against is the portentous baggage of The Monuments Men‘s Second World War subject matter. The conflict has been so exhaustively documented by the cinema over the years that it’s become a genre in itself, and perhaps unavoidably, Clooney finds himself compelled to have his story touch base with all those elements through the two hour running time (a Normandy beach landing, snipers firing at the soldiers in destroyed French towns, resistance fighters with berets riding bicycles in the French countryside, a heroic death, troops sentimentally opening up packages from home). The problem is that Clooney has had so little time to flesh out his characters (and when he has done it’s usually been to light, comic effect) that when less than halfway through the film Bill Murray’s character hears his suspiciously polished daughter’s voice singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” over a gramophone or when two of the crew actually die, these feel unearned and clichéd developments, rather than genuinely moving ones. Also, standing as proof that Clooney is probably trying to push the merit of the material a touch too much, I lost count of the times that his character ventriloquises the film’s two main morals (1 – if a society loses its art, it loses its history and sense of identity, and 2 – is a piece of art worth more than a man’s life?) Still, a George Clooney film always has the hallmark of good, old-fashioned Hollywood class – an excellent cast, a sense of fun and purpose, and I at least appreciate his attempts to sneak this story into the multiplexes in commercial cinema’s own language. (March 2014)

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