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The Monuments Men - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
The Monuments Men
Directing: C
Acting: B-
Writing: C+
Cinematography: B
Editing: C+

If I judged him on The Monuments Men alone, I might be tempted to say that George Clooney should stick to acting, and that directing isn't his gig. But this is the guy who gave us The Ides of March (2011), proving some real film making competence on his part. Granted, he also gave us the overrated Good Night, and Good Luck (2005), but that was kind of a long time ago, right?

George Clooney is a great actor who does great things, but the fact remains that The Monuments Men feels like the work of an amateur. Its heart is in the right place, and it's filled with charismatic actors. But chemistry is lacking, and the story never quite gels. It's difficult to put my finger on exactly what makes it fall apart, except to say that the movie is a little enamored with its own "jauntiness." It wants to be fun, and then it wants to get heavy with its war themes. It's tonally inconsistent, and rarely hits the mark in any given scene.

It's "based on a true story," so says the title card. A ragtag group of aging soldiers is assembled to rescue priceless art that the Nazis have rounded up and hidden away in the process of retreat at the end of World War II. This group is apparently comprised of some of George Clooney's best friends: Matt Damon; Bill Murray; John Goodman; Hugh Bonneville; Bob Balaban; even The Artist's Jean Dujardin. The only young -- and gorgeous -- one is Dimitri Leonidas, but nobody knows who he is, so who cares?

And then there's the French spy played by Cate Blanchett, the only person whose performance transcends the many flaws of the film. You see Blanchett on screen, and you forget that you're watching a movie that feels like it was hurriedly slapped together. She commands attention, and she serves as a lesson to others as to what real acting is. The fact that she has no particularly showcasing scenes tells you what kind of movie this is.

The other actors are talented too, don't get me wrong. But some actors excel on their own terms (Blanchett), while others (everyone else in this movie) can vary depending on the director they're working with. There's a little bit of going through the motions going on here.

There seems to be a production issue as well, and maybe there was a budget shortfall. The Monuments has many relatively elaborate sets that reflect a great many similar scenes from other World War II movies. But here, they all feel like sets. Not once do you feel genuinely as though you've been transported to 1940s Europe. It's all just window dressing, sets designed the way someone clearly thinks the audience expects them to appear.

A couple of times, a scene is staged well enough to cut through all that. In one instance, a soldier's shower is interrupted by the sound of his wife and daughter being amplified from a megaphone, singing Christmas carols. A friend has found the megaphone for him, and is playing the record he has yet to be able to play. There's something both wistful and dark about it, and touching too. But the moment is fleeting, and we're whisked back into a story that is told without ever getting truly deep into the matter at hand. The Monuments Men never forces you to feel what's at stake. And shouldn't it? We're talking about the very essence of Western culture and history here.

By and large, this movie just feels like a pet project worked on by a bunch of guys as a favor to a friend. It could have been so much more.

Bill Murray, Dimitri Leonidas, George Clooney and Bob Balaban are just a few of THE MONUMENTS MEN.

Overall: C+
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