The Bock’s Office: ‘Monuments Men’ a protracted but pointed war film
February 20, 2014
If you go
“The Monuments Men,” rated R
Rating: 2.5 out of 4 stars
Running time: 118 minutes
Starring: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray and John Goodman
Now playing at Wildhorse Stadium Cinemas in Steamboat Springs.
Not every film about the subject of art is as fascinating as the art itself. If the man who painted "The Last Supper" were remembered solely for the misfire that was "The Da Vinci Code," the Louvre certainly would have far fewer patrons gathered around his most famous works.
Even so, the modern-day efforts to preserve the accomplishments of the past are worth looking at in a movie like "The Monuments Men."
In 1943, American troops are engaged fully in World War II, and the effects on Europe are many. With the Allied and Axis powers intent on destroying their enemies, the cultural milestones across the continent are at risk, as artworks of every medium either have been lost forever or are being held hostage by Nazi forces.
Art historian Frank Stokes (George Clooney) is given the job of reducing the losses of these priceless items by assembling a team of men who specialize in the field to track down the missing masterpieces. Although many members of his squad are a little past their prime to be in combat zones, Stokes is determined to make sure the greatest triumphs of man's creation stay intact for future generations.
Are we looking at Danny Ocean if he had been at Omaha Beach and the Battle of the Bulge? Clooney relies on his experience as the head of an entirely different and nobler team of specialists for the acting portion of the feature he also produced, co-wrote and directed.
Only one of those rascals is present alongside him, with Matt Damon as his cohort James Granger, a fixture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art thrown into action in somewhat of a spy role, relying on fragmented French phrases to get him through the German-occupied country.
Bill Murray, John Goodman and Bob Balaban round out the rest of the recruits from the U.S., men with loads of know-how about architecture, sculpture, theater, dance, what have you, but basic training at their age isn't quite that simple.
They're joined by Hugh Bonneville and Jean Dujardin, representing the other countries with a stake in the mission, with Bonneville as a disgraced British lieutenant hoping to redeem himself and Dujardin as a French art expert ready to give his all in the war despite being the equivalent of 4-F.
If you feel like you don't have much of a feel for the personalities of this crew, you won't get much more from the movie itself. Perhaps there's some backstory of the connections Stokes has to each member of his handpicked platoon — all of whom are aliases for the actual men who served — that had to be cut to save time.
Well, Clooney could have trimmed a lot more. “The Monuments Men's” exploits run right up until the end of the war, and there's no mistaking it in the fatally slow pacing.
Damon's part of the story unfortunately is underplayed, as he develops a bond with a French curator (Cate Blanchett) who's seen the Nazis nab everything they can on behalf of the Führer.
And, as remarkable as they are, do we need a full oral history of Michelangelo's "Madonna and Child" or the Jan van Eyck altarpiece of Ghent, Belgium?
A very talky script is offset by a few attempts at humor — such as a scene of defusing a land mine with a Jenga prototype — and an occasionally playful score by Alexandre Desplat that hearkens back to the music of "The Great Escape" and "The Bridge on the River Kwai."
No, "The Monuments Men" won't go down as being as great as either of those wartime pictures, but at the same time, it does pull off what it sets out to do by shining a spotlight ever so briefly on the people who prevented thousands of pieces of art from being erased from existence.
When you get a little misty-eyed at an original Picasso that's been wiped out by a flamethrower, at least Clooney knows he's done his job.
Contact Andy Bockelman at 970-875-1793 or abockelman@CraigDailyPress.com.