The Monuments Men
dir George Clooney
scr-prd George Clooney, Grant Heslov
with George Clooney, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Hugh Bonneville, Bob Balaban, Dimitri Leonidas, Justus von Dohnanyi, Holger Handtke, Michael Hofland
release US 7.Feb.14, UK 14.Feb.14
14/US Fox 1h58
The Monuments Men
Saving history: Damon and Clooney

blanchett murray goodman
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The Monuments Men A fantastic true story is turned into an oddly lacklustre movie due to a choppy script that would be much more suited to episodic television than the big screen. Without much narrative drive, the events unfold in ways that are interesting but only rarely involving.

As the tide turns in WWII, art historian Frank (Clooney) is charged by US President Roosevelt with protecting the great European works of art from Hitler's greedy thievery. So Frank assembles a team of middle-aged art experts: four Yanks (Damon, Murray, Goodman and Balaban), a Brit (Bonneville) and a Frenchman (Dujardan). They split up and get to work, and with the help of a resistance-minded French art curator (Blanchett) track down some 5 million stolen works of art while having adventures that are dramatic, comical and sometimes life-threatening.

The film's central question, asked repeatedly, is whether art is worth risking someone's life to save. Obviously the answer is loaded, because art is the ultimate achievement of civilisation, so you're not risking life for a painting or sculpture, but for history itself. This theme subtly emerges through various set-pieces, and yet Clooney and Heslov can't help but hammer it home over and over again in the dialog, including opening and closing scenes in which Frank convinces two US presidents of this very fact.

The feeling is that the filmmakers don't quite trust the audience to get the point. And this aura of condescension leaves everything on-screen feeling simplistic. It's still fun to watch Murray and Balaban banter, or Damon and Blanchett flirt, or Goodman and Dujardin bond, but their characters are one-note compilations of more than 350 men and woman who took on this groundbreaking task. These actors are unusually adept at adding telling details that keep us engaged, but that doesn't make up for the script's superficial, preachy approach.

For a film about a little-known but vital chapter of history, this is a remarkably unsurprising movie. We keep waiting for something sudden or unexpected, but it never happens. Instead, we get a collection of funny, serious, tense moments that might have made a better MASH-style romp than this steadily-plotted and ultimately flag-waving procedural drama. While the film is entertaining, the importance of what happened never quite grips us. We hear the message, but we never feel it ourselves.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 10.Feb.14

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