Film review: The monuments men

Monday was Alberta Family Day, so on sunday we finally went to the cinema to watch “The monuments men”!

The monuments men
World War II is close to its end when the conservator of Harvard museum, Frank Stokes (George Clooney) convinces President Roosevelt that an effort is necessary to protect “the greatest historical achievements known to man” both from war (the Allies bombing of Montecassino is explicitly mentioned) and from plunder of the Nazis, busy in putting together the art collection of the would-be Fuhrer museum in Linz, hometown of the most famous lousy dauber of all History.
The team is made of art experts, museum conservators, sculptors, architects and we get to know them as Stokes enlists them, one at the time, while they’re at what they do best. The best one of these introductions is James Granger’s (Matt Damon), who’s flat on his back on top of a scaffolding, in a pose strongly resemblant of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel.
Unlikely in uniforms, these magnificient 7 receive a pretty basic military training and they leave to the frontline, or even behind enemy lines, where the masterpieces to be saved are. Among these, the Ghent altar piece by Jan Van Eyck and the Virgin with Child by Michelangelo in Bruges.
Through various adventures, some comical, some tragical, our heroes manage to save a large number of artworks from the retreating Nazis that meant to stole them, and from the advancing Russians that meant to recover them for themselves.
Instead the good Americans, they meant to return the artworks to their rightful owners, and this is the winning approach, for instance to win the mistrust of Claire Simone (Cate Blanchett), employee of a parisian museum who kept a detailed record of all the works stolen from the Nazis, a record which proves very convenient.

This n-th (and untimely?) attempt by George Clooney to show the Academy that he’s a better director than actor may backfire on him… a crowded cast and a fool-proof theme are no guarantee for a great movie.
“The monuments men” is a solid, classic movie, of uncertain genre, on a very interesting subject, very interesting to me at least, as I ignored everything about it.
For instance, I ignored that Hitler gave the order to destroy the artwork in case the Reich fell, in what is surely the most disturbing scene of the whole movie. An easy winner.
Even if the 2 hours pass by easily, and laughing too (here in Fort Mac the audience had lots of fun with Matt Damon learning his horrible French in Montreal…), I must admit that I didn’t really like anything particular in this movie. Maybe ’cause no aspect has really been developed: comical situations are not that comical, tragical situations are not that tragical and even the rush against time is not that rushed.
Same goes for the performances: no-one of the actors (Clooney, Damon, Jean Dujardin, John Goodman, an aging Bill Murray, Bob Balaban) stands out.
Especially unremarkable George Clooney, that as director and autor of this movie creates the perfect scene for the George Clooney actor of the movie: the scene towards the finale in which Stokes confronts the usual, thick SS colonel… impossible not to think of Brad Pitt/Aldo Raine in “Inglorious basterds”, a cruel comparison for poor George.

Mark: 6

Further reading: “The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History,” written by Robert M. Edsel, with Bret Witter.


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