With an international all-star cast ”The Monuments Men” sets out not to overwhelm with special effects or pulse-pounding suspense-driven action; instead it seeks to tell a scarcely known true story about men who, during a particularly inhuman time in history, laid their lives on the line in order to preserve evidence that there is some beauty in humanity.
Admittedly not the fare for fans of fragging, the concept of retrieving stolen art and telling the Allied military what it cannot blow up seems to go against the conventions of what constitutes an “action” film. Nevertheless, “Monuments Men” does put our protagonists in the European Theater of the war and the threat on their lives becomes a very real thing.
The film jumps right into things as Lieutenant Frank Stokes (George Clooney) asks FDR to let him assemble a team of renowned art experts. There’s an air of humorous familiarity as Stokes first enlists Matt Damon’s character. Had the film been made in a less reverent vein, it could have been a prequel entitled “Ocean’s Seven.”
But cooler heads prevailed, and the story remained, more or less, as it should have. With a gentle blend of character development, humor, sadness and, yes, gunfire, the film does not veer off onto unnecessary roads.
The ensemble cast of the aforementioned and Jean Dujardin (“The Artist,” “Wolf of Wall Street”), Bill Murray (“Ghostbuster”), Bob Balaban (“Close Encounters of the Third Kind”), Hugh Bonneville (“Downton Abbey”) and Cate Blanchett (“Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” Trilogies), establishes a variety of friendships. However, the danger of so many characters in so small a time often means some character depth goes missing and that is, unfortunately, the case in this flick as well.
The story is not without depth, though. But aside from one heart-rending scene during the Battle of the Bulge the sentimentality in “Monuments Men” is dry and subtle. The subtext is what carries this picture. When the team arrives in Normandy one month after the D-Day invasion, the imagination cannot help but spark images of that same beach torn with the chaos of battle and soaked in the blood of good men. Now swept clean of the dead by man and nature alike, it poses as merely a backdrop.
It’s a shame more true stories of World War II are not told on the silver screen nowadays, particularly with so many of The Greatest Generation reaching the end of their twilight years. If for no other reason, “The Monuments Men” is a worthwhile outing as it serves as a monument for those men who sacrificed all so we could enjoy the art of film today.
Ammo Dump rating: 7 out of 10 unburned paintings
(Rated PG-13; 110 min.)
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