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The Independent Critic

STARRING
George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, Daniel Craig, Bob Balaban, Jean Dujardin, John Goodman
DIRECTED BY
George Clooney
SCREENPLAY
George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Brett Witter (Book), Robert M. Edsel (Book)
MPAA RATING
Rated PG-13
RUNNING TIME
118 Mins.
DISTRIBUTED BY
Columbia Pictures

 The Monuments Men" Entertains Yet Still Disappoints 
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The Monuments Men, the latest George Clooney and Grant Heslov penned script and Clooney directed film, is certainly not a bad film.

It's not. Really.

For better and for worse, Clooney has acquired a bit of a reputation for quality productions even if those have been inching ever more so closely towards the mainstream as of late. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it's hard not to watch The Monuments Men without thinking to oneself that this is a decent flick that should have been a much better one given the level of talent both behind the scenes and on the screen.

Frank Stokes (Clooney) is an art historian who approaches F.D.R. (Michael Dalton) in 1944 with a request for a rather unusual project. It is known that Hitler (James Payton) has ordered the confiscation of the great art masterpieces of Europe with a plan that they will all be gathered in one grand gallery to be built in his honor. Stokes wants to assemble a team to try to get these masterpieces back before Hitler opts to destroy them or they otherwise become collateral damage.

The assembling of the team, or in this case teams, could have been quite a bit of fun (as it has been even in other Clooney films) but instead is played in a rather straightforward manner. Matt Damon, as art historian James Granger, comes the closest to pulling off a "caper" sort of vibe, though it's a little uncertain why he's not paired up with obvious Frenchman Jean Claude Clermont (Jean Dujardin), the latter who is actually sent off John Goodman's Walter Garfield. Architect Richard Campbell (Bill Murray) is paired up with Bob Balaban's Preston Savitz, while Hugh Bonneville's Donald Jeffries is added to the mix primarily as a source of plot foundation. Cate Blanchett also shows up as Claire Simone, a resistance spy who does what resistance spies do while harboring a bit of a crush on Damon's Granger.

The capers themselves are more interesting in concept than in actuality with the scenes mostly playing out in a repetitive, formulaic manner that doesn't come close to importance that Clooney clearly wants all of this to have. Of course, it should be stressed that this entire affair is an expansion based upon a real-life idea that did, indeed, actually get approved but never actually was put into action. So, pretty much everything after "Can I do this, pretty please, FDR?" is a fictionalized account.

While one would expect there to be a certain degree of tension given that this does involved Allied Forces going toe-to-toe with the Nazis, there's actually very little to be found.

It's pretty clear, from the casting alone, that Clooney intended the film to have an underlying comic vibe but the Heslov/Clooney dialogue is far too reverential and dry to elicit much in the way of laughs.

The Monuments Men isn't a bad film, but it's definitely not a coincidence that the film was pulled from its pre-Oscar consideration calendar date and placed squarely into the land of forgotten films. The film doesn't actually deserve to be forgotten, it's a decent film with a far more than decent message, but it's hard not to be disappointed that a film about The Monuments Men isn't actually a whole lot more monumental.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic   

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