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Movie review: 'The Monuments Men' searches for art, is devoid of it

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The Monuments Men


Sometimes, finding art amidst chaos is a brutal challenge. That is the plot of The Monument Men (opening today) as well as a fairly accurate description of what it feels like to be a movie critic. But you would have to look long and hard to try and pull anything of worth out the rubble that is this film.

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George Clooney has risen to the top of the A-list of Hollywood stars and has crafted some fine films along the way while behind the screen. He of course landed an Oscar nomination for Good Night, and Good Luck in 2006 and also scored a writing nomination for 2012's The Ides of March (not to mention winning the Best Picture Oscar as a producer on last year's Argo). Here he pulls off the trifecta - as actor, co-writer and director of The Monuments Men - with a "based on a true story" tale about a little known mission during World War II.

Clooney stars as art historian Frank Stokes, who convinces President FDR to take on a dangerous task of vital importance. Hitler - that bastard - is not only an evil prick, but he also has been stealing the most beloved pieces of art from across Europe for his collection. Statues, paintings, sculptures, you name it. As the German decline commenced, much of the stolen artwork began being destroyed by the Nazis. So Stokes mission? To swoop in, take back and protect as much artwork as possible to preserve this important part of human history and culture.

Stokes sets out to recruit the members of his merry brigade, many of which are portrayed by other A-list friends of Clooney. There is Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman and Bob Balaban. Hugh Boneville (Robert, from Downton Abbey) and Jean Dujardin (the Oscar winning star of the silent 2012 film, The Artist) join them as well. Together they form an unlikely rag-tag group of mostly untrained soldiers who work their way across Germany to recover these stolen artifacts.

It's an interesting real-life story that makes for one boring cinematic experience. If you know the plot - that Hitler stole artwork and that our forces sought to recover it - then you know everything. Not much else is revealed and there is little excitement to be had.

The tone seems off as well, with a collision of light and dark moments, swirled together with uncooked characters and relationships. For all of the talented actors appearing in the film, this is by far each of their least memorable performances perhaps of each of their careers. Cate Blanchett maybe gives the film's best performance as a French museum worker who is close to some key Nazi leaders. But nearly nothing comes together in any cohesive way.

Poor dialogue and under-developed characters really seems to be the fatal flaw of The Monuments Men. It's a vitally important vignette of American history during World War II, but it just goes to show you that sometimes, bad movies can happen to good people.

Genre: Action, Biography, Drama

Run Time: 1 hours, 51 minutes, Rated PG-13

Starring: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Hugh Bonneville, Bob Balaban

Based on the book by Robert M. Edsel & Bret Witter

Written by George Clooney & Grant Heslov

Directed by George Clooney (Good Night, and Good Luck, Leatherheads, The Ides of March)

Opens locally on Friday, Feb 7, 2014 (check for show times).

Be sure to watch Tom Santilli on TV! Check your local listings for “Movie Show Plus” for Tom’s weekly movie review segment, airing at 10:30 p.m. EST every Sunday, on MYTV20 in Detroit.

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How to read Tom Santilli's "Star Ratings:"

  • 5 Stars: Exceptional, must-see movie
  • 4 Stars: Very good movie, not without flaws
  • 3 Stars: The movie was just OK, leaves a lot to be desired
  • 2 Stars: Pretty bad, a let-down, disappointing, but with some redeeming qualities
  • 1 Star: Awful, sloppy, a total waste of time

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