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Review: Good intentions go awry in 'Monuments Men'

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George Clooney hasn’t directed many movies, but titles such as Good Night, and Good Luck and The Ides of March showed an actor who transitioned seamlessly to the director’s chair.

A Clooney-directed film displayed confidence, intelligence and had something to say.

In The Monuments Men, which opens Friday (Feb. 7) he has plenty to say, but he doesn’t know how to go about conveying the message. It possesses entertainment value, but everything is so off in the film that it takes viewers out of the experience and that’s too bad because Monuments Men presents an interesting debate about what role art and culture should play in a society.

He does so by bringing to life the story of the monuments men during World War II. The group was comprised of artists, academics and others tasked with the duty of tracking down art – paintings, statues – stolen by the Nazis for Adolf Hitler’s dream museum.

Clooney stars as Lt. Frank Stokes, the man charged with putting a team together to carry out the mission. Matt Damon stars as his right hand Lt. James Granger. Together they lead a team that includes experts in assorted fields portrayed by John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban and Hugh Bonneville.

The team splits in three to follow clues – any clues – that might lead them to what Hitler’s SS (secret police) have done with some of the most famous pieces on the planet that include works by Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci and Ruben among others.

Don’t think for a moment that their mission is viewed as a noble one by their fellow soldiers. In fact it’s met with derision from short-sighted higher ups, who feel that their duties should rank lower on the list of priorities.

That’s the question that’s serves as the tipping point for The Monuments Men: Is a piece of art worth a man’s life? Stokes’ thought evolves regarding that particular question throughout the movie.

And at bare minimum it will provoke thoughts of the subject in many audience members. Ultimately, the answer for this viewer, came in the form of it depends.

It’s common knowledge that Hitler ordered the destruction of many of those art works should he ever die or be captured and, of course, history tells us what happened. As audiences watch as works from modern masters such as Pablo Picasso go up in flames, the answer becomes clearer.

To create such a mental maelstrom represents a typical Clooney film. He’s always asked audiences to think. Even with a film such as Leatherheads, which was about the early days of professional football.

Unfortunately, however, Clooney who co-wrote the film with long-time collaborator Grant Heslov, has issues with The Monuments Men, the essential one being he and Heslov do not know which tone they’re trying to create.

It alternates between the sternly serious moments found in Saving Private Ryan to lighter moments that would have been found in the classic M*A*S*H and while he has some really good moments, it never gels.
Ultimately, The Monuments Men disappoints.

Movie: The Monuments Men
Director: George Clooney
Cast: George Clooney, Matt Damon, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, Hugh Bonneville
Studio: Columbia
Rated: PG-13 for some images of war violence and historical smoking.
Running time: 118 minutes
George’s rating: 2.5-of-5 stars
Check for theaters and showtimes at Atlas Cinemas, Cleveland Cinemas, Fandango.com and MovieTickets.com

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