Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Review of THE MONUMENTS MEN: Art as Legacy

February 12, 2014

"The Monuments Men" gathers together such a stellar cast, it was definitely hard to ignore. George Clooney directs, writes and plays the lead role in a film that somehow echoes his Danny Ocean films. It was also about gathering a bunch of experts together for a common mission. But this time the mission was not a criminal heist, but something altogether noble and altruistic.

In the heat of World War 2, Frank Stokes (George Clooney) wanted to save the precious artwork that the Nazis are spiriting away from various European cities they are attacking. When his mission was approved, he gathered a group of seven experts in the arts together to help him locate and recover these treasures from the clutches of Hitler. 

George Clooney basically plays himself here, a charming man with a sense of humor and a noble mission in life. It is difficult to disengage him with this Danny Ocean persona, especially since Matt Damon is also on board the team here as James Granger, the curator of the Metropolitan Museum in New York. The chemistry between these two guys was undeniably effortless. The relationship of Damon's Granger with that of Cate Blanchett's Claire (who was the curator of a French museum) though, was rather awkwardly portrayed.

Bill Murray plays his usual deadpan droll self as architect Richard Campbell. His mission partner was theater director Preston Savitz, played by Bob Balaban. John Goodman was his usual good guy self as sculpture expert Walter Garfield. His mission partner was French painter Jean Claude Clermont, played by Jean Dujardin. Too bad that we do not really know much more about each of their individual backgrounds and expertise. It would have made us care about them more.

For a movie that deals with such an importantly serious topic, George Clooney decides to treat his material with a sense of humor. There would be plenty of funny little one-liners peppered throughout the script, many times diffusing the tension in very intense scenes. I could not help but imagine how it would have been if they had played this film in complete seriousness. This material had the potential to be another war classic and Oscar winner if treated as a drama. That said, the light comedic treatment makes the issue more accessible for younger viewers, quite entertaining. There is however still pathos that still succeeded to shine through in many scenes.

There were several scenes that may feel extraneous, like Goodman and Dujardin's encounter with an unseen sniper, Damon's unfortunate dilemma when he accidentally stepped on a landmine, or even Murray's scene in the shower while a recording of his daughter singing a Christmas carol was played. These were not necessarily about saving art from the war. But they do complete the picture that these people, despite being there for a special non-military mission, were really still in the thick of the dangers and isolation of the whole.war experience.

The message of the film is important. Are works of art worth the cost of human life to preserve them? People who believe that the cultural achievements of humanity should be protected from the destruction of war at all cost, this film will definitely strike a positive chord. Those who believe that art is a mere triviality may think this film is much ado about nothing. I believe they are, and that is why I enjoyed this film very much despite its flaws. 7/10.

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