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The Monuments Men

by Louise Adams
Wednesday May 21, 2014
The Monuments Men

Maybe because Hitler was a failed artist he had the Nazis steal and stash as many classic paintings and sculptures as possible ("degenerate," or more modern, art was burned) for the Führer Museum in his hometown of Linz, Austria.

The story that art is worth fighting for because it carries human history and culture should not be forgotten, but unfortunately this narrative, based on Robert M. Edsel's book, ends up in George Clooney's cornball script and ham-handed performance and direction. "The Monuments Men" is a "M*A*S*H"-up of "Ocean's 8: The European Theatre Caper" and a "Stripes" prequel, but without all that pesky humor and pace.

Clooney plays Frank Stokes, speaking with his usual flat and awkward modern delivery, who assembles a rag-tag team of aging art scholars and curators to locate and return over five million pieces before more are torched or taken by the Soviets. Matt Damon is effective but unexciting; Bill Murray, Bob Balaban and John Goodman's comic chops are underutilized, but happily Jean Dujardin's dazzling smile and energy illuminate his few scenes.

A "M*A*S*H"-up of "Ocean’s 8: The European Theatre Caper" and a "Stripes" prequel, but without all that pesky humor and pace.

The Blu-ray extras present the more captivating, real-life adventures in brief featurettes. "A Woman Amongst the Monuments Men" allows ever-brilliant Cate Blanchett to expound on her character's inspiration, Jeu de Paume art curator Rose Valland. The French Resistance fighter secretly understood German, and took copious secret, and therefore life-threatening, notes on the stolen artworks' provenance and hiding places in various mines and castles, which facilitated most being returned.

"In Their Own Words" interviews remaining living members of the FDR-authorized "Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Section of the Allied Armies," which eventually comprised 354 people in 13 countries.

Clooney's humanitarian bent is appreciated, but the emperor is beyond starkers in his filmmaking abilities. Why not hire an actual screenwriter to interpret this forgotten yet crucial episode? Why approve this inelegant text for such a sophisticated story? Art in any form should draw from more than the limited palette of celebrity clout.

"The Monuments Men"
Blu-ray & DVD Combo Pack

Louise Adams is a Chicago freelance writer at www.treefalls.com (and a nom de guerre).


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