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Judy Thorburn's Movie Reviews

The Monuments Men | Matt Damon, George Clooney, Jean Dujardin, Hugh Bonneville, Dimitri Leonidas, Cate Blachett | Review

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3sm The Flick Chicks movie rating for this film is MEDIOCRE Judy Thorburn

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3lg The Flick Chicks movie rating for this film is MEDIOCRE


The Monuments Men

What many people may not know, is that during World War 11, Hitler wasn't just intent on eliminating the Jews and others he deemed undesirable.  The maniacal dictator put a plan in motion to steal some of the world's greatest artworks from Jewish collectors, museums and galleries and build his own Fuhrer Museum to house the artworks.  He also issued the “Nero Decree” to destroy the artworks if he were to die.

The question might arise, was it worth risking the lives of those who were sent on a mission to find and retreive the masterpieces.  Regardless of where you stand on that issue, the fact of the matter is, The Monuments Men is based on a true story about a group of art scholars who saw it fit to come to the plate and sacrifice everything for what they believed was a rightful cause.

The factual tale was captured in Robert M. Edsel's book of the same name and was the source for George Clooney's screenplay (cowritten with Grant Heslov) that he also directs and stars alongside an international, all star ensemble cast.

The film begins with art professor Frank Stokes (Clooney) convincing President FDR to grant him the OK to put together a team of art scholars and head to Europe to locate and take back as many of the art pieces stolen by the Nazis that they could. ”We are fighting for a culture, a way of life.  To destroy the achievements, history, life of people like they never exisited, that is what Hitler wants, and we simply can't allow that”, Stokes adamantly declares.

Recruited for the dangerous mission are art restorer James Granger (Matt Damon), sculptor Walter Garfield (John Goodman), N.Y. architect Richard Campbell (Bill Murray), French artist Jean Claude Calremont (Jean Dujardin); Englishman Daniel Jeffries (Hugh Bonneville of TV's Downton Abbey), and young Private Sam Epstein (Dimitri Leonidas), a Jewish expatriate from Germany, raised in America who, as a translator, becomes a valuable asset. Bob Balaban plays, what I assume, is a theater director named Preston Savitz, although his art expertise is not clearly defined.

After going through basic training to become soldiers, the men split up upon being given various assignments in Nazi occupied countries as Stokes oversees their mission. Going it alone are Granger, who heads to Paris to meet up with drab looking Frenchwoman Claire Simone (Cate Blachett) who works at a museum taken over by the Nazis, and holds the key to finding and recovering the majority of art they stole and who each piece originally belonged to.  It soon becomes evident that she has more than a professional interest in Granger and is willing to help him. Meanwhile, Jeffries, a recovering alcholic, seeks redemption by going to Bruges, Belgium, to find Michelangelo's magnificent sculpture of the Madonna and Child.

Don't be fooled into thinking this is an action packed war drama. Although set in and around the battlefields of World War 11, there is little action and suspense.  I know that Clooney's heart was in the right place, but given its uneven tone, he failed to deliver a compelling adventure nor does he convey the magnitude of this mission.   Instead, we get severely underdeveloped characters with whom we are uninvested and emotionally disconnected, even after two are killed by the Nazis.

Yet, I wouldn't call The Monuments Men a monumental disaster. While Clooney's film isn't his best effort and doesn't come close to being a cinematic masterpiece, merit must be given for its historical significance and educational value.  For that alone, I recommend it.

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