POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Feb 7, 2014
"The Monuments Men" is the "Last Vegas" of World War II movies. A roughly true/fictionally embellished account of the efforts of American arts scholars — drafted into the Army — to preserve the artistic patrimony of Europe from the scourge of combat and theft by the Germans, it is a cute but clunky ensemble piece that director George Clooney rarely bestows with the gravitas and jauntiness this material demanded.
|‘THE MONUMENTS MEN’
They changed the names of almost everyone from the historic "Monuments Men," whose exploits were recounted in the book by Robert M. Edsel and Bret Witter. Clooney and co-adaptor Grant Heslov had to sex it up a bit, give the tale more thriller elements. It makes for a genial combat picture starring a bunch of guys "too old for this," as indeed were many of the actual curators, artists and scholar-heroes who did the work.
Clooney plays the guy tasked with assembling a team of men of experience, all shoved into ill-fitting uniforms, given rudimentary basic training and thrust into the combat zones of Europe, battling murderously thieving Germans, suspicious occupied French and their own "No painting is worth a GI's life" field commanders.
"This is our history," Stokes (Clooney) pep-talks his troops. "It's not to be stolen or destroyed. It's to be held up and admired."
But that's what the Nazi leadership was doing — swiping pretty much anything that wasn't nailed down in Paris as the Allies swept eastward after D-Day.
The story skips across locations — slowly — and shows us the history: Nazi Hermann Goering's art "shopping" in the museums of Paris and the stoic efforts to track the thefts by heroic French curator Claire, played by Cate Blanchett.
It is difficult to justify the changes made to the real-life heroine of the French Resistance, Rose Valland, to create Blanchett's character, a big reason this movie was removed from Oscar consideration. Another is that "The Monuments Men" just isn't that good.
This could have been a lovely historical lark, a bunch of grizzled faux soldiers tracking art, outwitting Nazis and occasionally dealing with a blast of tragedy and "what this war is really about" reminders. Clooney, for the first time in his directing career ("Good Night, and Good Luck," "The Ides of March") never finds the sweet spot, and never quite wrestles the script into a shape entertaining enough to make the liberties he and Heslov took with the facts worth it.
Review by Roger Moore, McClatchy Newspapers