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“The Monuments Men” misses the mark

Photo courtesy of MCT Campus.

Take everything that comes to your mind when you envision the battlefields of World War II. Now subtract the blood, guts, and gore you’ve seen in other movies, add a bit of art history, and you’ve got director George Clooney’s “The Monuments Men,” which offers an entirely new perspective on one of the most famous conflicts in history.

Photo courtesy of MCT Campus.
Photo courtesy of MCT Campus.

The film recounts the efforts of a ragtag team of Americans, Brits, and a Frenchman as they struggle to save history’s most beloved paintings and sculptures from the clutches of the Nazis, who have been instructed to destroy the pieces should the Fuhrer taste defeat. Their leader, American Frank Stokes (Clooney), with the help of his team, must find out where the paintings are being stored and return them to their original owners.

Though we’re immersed into the lives of the Monument Men for nearly two hours, the characters are barely given any backstories, resulting in a main cast of nearly identical characters with slightly different nationalities and quirks. An exception to this bland mix is Donald Jeffries (brilliantly portrayed by Hugh Bonneville of “Downton Abbey” fame), a disgraced alcoholic receiving a chance to redeem himself.

Another shining star is no-nonsense Claire Simone (Cate Blanchett), a French woman who’s dedicated her life to defending the art of her country. Blanchett is ferociously exquisite in carrying out the passion and devotion Simone has for her cause, and gives the most stand-out performance by far. Jean Dujardin, whom you may remember from 2011’s “The Artist,” is also excellent in his portrayal of French Monument Man Jean Claude Clermont, who finds himself slightly out of place among his American and English counterparts.

Despite the film’s intriguing plot, breathtaking European scenery, standout characters, and clever execution, it does drag at moments, and the script features quite a bit of unfortunate “comic relief.” Though these comedic moments are entertaining, they undermine the dramatic integrity of nearly every intense scene. When young soldier Sam Epstein (Dimitri Leonidas) has finally found a Rembrandt painting that he’s dreamed of seeing his entire life, a lame joke thrown in by the constantly cheery Stokes detracts from Leonidas’s delicate execution of the emotional moment. There are cringe-worthy moments like this throughout the entire movie.

Despite its flaws, the movie does honor the cause of the Monuments Men, and cleverly juxtaposes the importance of art in the history and culture of the human race with the importance of the human race itself. In one chilling scene, the group finds an underground stash of burned masterpieces, as well as multiple barrels full of gold teeth ripped from the mouths of other burned masterpieces- the Jews suffering through the terror of the Holocaust.

Overall, as an art and history fan, I did enjoy the film, despite its bland characters and clunky plotlines, but “The Monuments Men” is aimed at a rather specific demographic. If you’re into studying the works of Great Masters and the specifics of WWII battles, then you definitely need to see this film on the big screen. If you’re looking for a fast-paced, battle heavy film, I’d skip “The Monuments Men,” or at least wait to rent it.

3/5 Stars

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