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'The Monuments Men': A monumental effort with a few missed brushstrokes

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The Monuments Men

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The Monuments Men” should have been the Michelangelo of the box office. Unfortunately it graced the canvas as a Jackson Pollock: though a remarkable work of art, universal renown was limited. George Clooney’s World War II flick offers a unique based-on-a-true-story tale with superb acting, though the all-star cast may be too wide-spanning. Ultimately “The Monuments Men” might not translate to a masterpiece it presents an unusual narrative sure to please WWII fanatics, history buffs, and art aficionados.

In the midst of World War II, Frank Stokes (George Clooney) compels the President that combat is needed on a separate front: protecting the decimation of Western culture. Stokes suggests deployment of a unit dubbed the “The Monuments Men” behind enemy lines. The proposed group consists not of veteran soldiers, but art curators and museum owners. They’re clearly more comfortable staring at a gold-framed painting than down the sights of a gun, and the majority of the team isn’t exactly in combat shape.

The expansive team consists of Stokes, Lt. James Granger (Matt Damon), Sgt. Richard Campbell (Bill Murray), Sgt. Walter Garfield (John Goodman), Lt. Jean Claude Clermont (Jean Dujardin), Pvt. Preston Savitz (Bob Balaban), and Lt. Donald Jeffries (Hugh Bonneville). They’re aided by Sam Epstein (Dimitri Leonidas), as well as Claire Simone (Cate Blanchett). Each actor could have headlined the film singlehandedly, and the intended tour de force falters partly from the lengthy cast. With such an array of talent, it’s akin to a Shakespeare production with townsfolk played by seasoned actors: the stage feels cramped. Just as the audience begins connecting with a character, action whisks off to another scene.

Similarly, “The Monuments Men” attempts to relay far too much information. The almost two hour event seems half that length. Mere portraits are presented, and bouncing from character to character doesn’t bolster cohesiveness. The overall effect leaves a nagging sensation of an unfinished product. However, whatever shortcomings “The Monuments Men” may have, ambition is at fault. At the heart of the flick is a fascinating story based on real-life events. And yes, there’s dramatization though it doesn’t come across as heavy handed as the “Argo” finale. The multi-talented cast further present the lofty goals of the project.

Despite a few misguided brushstrokes, “The Monuments Men” is a pretty good film. It’s not the Mona Lisa, as might be expected from the trailer and IMDB page, but it presents an interesting, largely unknown historical take on WWII. And there are almost as many World War II flicks as Gene Hackman movies. Acting is superb, but you’ll shuffle out of the theater wanting more: more character development, more action, more minutes. While a compelling reason to purchase the Blu-Ray may not arise, you’ll undoubtedly enlist Google to read up on the historical events inspiring the movie. “The Monuments Men” definitely deserves a viewing, though it may not warrant multiple sessions.

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