Monday, February 10, 2014

[Review] The Monuments Men

With George Clooney at the helm, Grant Heslov adapting a compelling war story, and a top-notch cast including the likes of Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, John Goodman and Jean Dujardin, you'd think a modern classic would be in the works. Unfortunately, The Monuments Men falls short of its on-paper anticipations. But while it's no masterpiece, it isn't a total loss either.

The story follows a platoon of art scholars and historians, tasked with the mission of tracking down and rescuing stolen artwork from Nazi thieves during World War II before the pieces are destroyed. Via monologue, Lt. Frank Stokes (George Clooney) proclaims the importance of cultural preservation.

For the most part, The Monuments Men side-steps the visceral action and weighty tragedy that we come to expect from WWII films. Instead, it holds a decidedly lighter and old-school vibe. From the musical score to the look of the film, it rings 1960s Hollywood. Early on, the film presents itself as more of a comedy than a drama (although there are still jolts of poignancy). This is most pronounced through the playful banter, and a humorous scene when the rag-tags clumsily endure a training camp. I found the tone to be refreshing.

One problem is that the episodic narrative meanders, sometimes seeming slow and underwhelming, yet rushed at other times. We barely get to know a couple of the characters before they meet their demise. But the most disappointing aspect is the under-utilization of the impeccable cast. It's sort of like a Pro Bowl, in the way that there are a bunch of big names and faces together, but not much room for any impressively remarkable performances or exchanges.

Despite the shortcomings, The Monuments Men is an agreeable viewing, an interesting history lesson, and it has a pleasantly-pitched ending. And even though it feels like a patchwork at times, it still has enough wonderful moments to render itself as a story that's worth telling.


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