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MONUMENTS MEN, THE

SYNOPSIS:
An unlikely team of art historians and curators, led by Frank Stokes (George Clooney) is tasked by President Roosevelt with going into Germany to rescue artistic masterpieces from Nazi thieves and returning them to their rightful owners. It would be an impossible mission: with the art trapped behind enemy lines and with the German army under orders to destroy everything as the Reich fell. With the help of a well placed French administrator, Claire Simone (Cate Blanchett), The Monuments Men, as they were called, found themselves in a race against time to avoid the destruction of 1000 years of significant art and culture; they risk their lives to rescue mankind's greatest artistic achievements. (Based on a true story)

Review by Louise Keller:
A wonderfully deft and unexpected tale involving art masterpieces, war and history, George Clooney's film captures the perfect tone: respectful without being maudlin, humorous without being disrespectful and engaging in an entertaining way with its cohesive A-list cast. It's a story with scale, texture and layers and whatever it lacks in grit and tension (required for a story based on fact) is compensated by chutzpah, as the specially commissioned team of art scholars and specialists locate, save and champion the world's art masterpieces from destruction or Hitler's clutches. War is only the backdrop of the story that promotes the notion that great works of art are integral to the social fabric of our culture and the history of civilisation.

The story comes left of field, offering a very different slant on war and the potential impact of Hitler's legacy, his intention being to house the masterpieces in his Fuehrer Museum in his Austrian hometown of Linz or if that was not possible, to destroy them. Based Robert M. Edsel's book, Clooney directs, produces and has adapted the screenplay (together with former Good Night and Good Luck collaborator Grant Heslov). The structure is apparent at times and clearly the film has been made with a broad audience in mind. However the story generates a good head of steam as the treasure hunt gets underway for the priceless artworks that include most notably the famed Flemish Altarpiece from Ghent and Michelangelo's Madonna and Child from Bruges.

As the film's art historian central character Frank Stokes, Clooney is the pivot as the specialist team is amassed with its unlikely combo of art specialists. There is nothing to stretch Clooney here, but his presence is enough and there is a good dynamic about the mix with Matt Damon, John Goodman, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, Jean Dujardin and Hugh Bonneville as a painting restorer, sculptor, architect, entrepreneur, art teacher and former museum chief respectively.

Each contributes in his own way (albeit they fit too snugly into the Clooney pack) and the fact that Bonneville's character is looking for redemption from earlier digressions, adds texture. Cate Blanchett blends in nicely as the French resistance member whose passion for art extends to Damon, while the latter's intrinsic sense of decency is nicely exemplified in the scene when Blanchett puts her cards on the table, in the context of 'good husbands' on the loose in Paris. (I do agree with Andrew's sentiments [below], regarding the casting of this role.)

Mortality is on display throughout and some of the small, personal moments are especially effective, like the one when a musical message from home resonates through loudspeakers in an army camp. As for the music, Alexandre Desplat's score binds the tale together with a sense of melancholy, beauty and fluidity.

I got a lot out of this film - I love the premise, the cast and the journey. Raising the issue about the value of art in itself is one that is worthwhile. The fact that it may not have the true ring of authenticity about it due to its Hollywood royalty credentials is simply one small element.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
War movies inevitably tell heroic stories amidst the ghastly carnage of war, and we consume them with unquenchable thirst, never tiring it seems, of the stories that come from real events or from imagined heroism. But The Monuments Men is different from those war movies because these heroes rescue works of art; their mission is to repatriate paintings and sculptures, not young soldiers.

George Clooney has approached the film in an old fashioned sort of way, old fashioned Hollywood way in fact, in both casting and storytelling. The star cast helps to finance the film, but it undermines the film's authenticity; we know these guys too well to see them as anything but stars. It wouldn't matter so much if it weren't based on a true story. (Clooney also briefed composer Alexandre Desplat to follow suit, resulting in a score that could have been written when the film was set - the end years of World War II.)

So it is that we quickly round up the team in a filmic shorthand, plucking them from their 'day jobs' and enlisting them; there is even a brief scene at boot camp, played for laughs - perhaps too much so. Indeed, it is this desire to make the film a mainstream entertainment that dilutes the power of the underlying story.

The performances are not the problem, but (dare I ask) why did Clooney cast Cate Blanchett as Claire Simone, when there is no shortage of high profile French talent (eg Marion Cotillard, Audrey Tautou, Sandrine Bonnaire, Carole Bouquet)? I ask not out disrespect for Blanchett's talent in general or her performance in particular, but ... well, she isn't French. This is another 'old fashioned' decision: in old Hollywood, English speaking actors often played Germans, French, Italians and Russians, etc. And he did, after all, cast Jean Dujardin as Clermont, the French member of the team.

The film avoids battle scenes and Clooney avoids showing President Eisenhower; we only see a bit of the back of his head. Likewise, Clooney chooses not to get up close to Hitler, whose dastardly edict (which we see a hand sign) to steal or destroy every piece of worthwhile art becomes his most tangible presence.

The focus is thus on the Monuments Men and their quest. It's challenging to make such a chase cinematically satisfying, when the fleeing objects are wrapped in cloth. The only dramatic vision is that of German soldiers torching mountains of gilt framed paintings.

Sometimes perfunctory, often hitting false notes, the film lacks the punch of its story.

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 1
Unfavourable: 1
Mixed: 0

MONUMENTS MEN, THE (M)
(US, 2014)

CAST: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Cate Blanchett, Jean Dujardin, Hugh Bonneville, Bob Baliban, Dimitri Leonidas, Justus von Dohnányi

PRODUCER: George Clooney, Grant Heslov

DIRECTOR: George Clooney

SCRIPT: George Clooney, Grant Heslov (book by Robert M. Edsel, Bret Witter)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Phedon Papamichael

EDITOR: Stephe Mirrione

MUSIC: Alexandre Desplat

PRODUCTION DESIGN: James D. Bissell

RUNNING TIME: 118 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: 20th Century Fox

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 13, 2014







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