Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Film Review - The Monuments Men

George Clooney returns to directing with The Monuments Men His first feature since 2011's The Ides of March. Clooney also stars as (Frank Stokes) the leader of the monuments, fine arts and archives section of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force or MFAA.  The film is based on a true accounts focusing on a group of Art Historians, Scholars and Enthusiast that enter the European theatre of World War II shortly after D- Day to stop the looting of centuries old art by the Germans as they retreat from Western Europe to protect the Fatherland.

The troop first complete basic training in England, land in Normandy, then split up to head to highly vulnerable locations to protect works of art that may be in jeopardy. In the event that they are late to a spot they work with Allied forces and locals to ascertain the Germans method of transport of pilfered artifacts and their ultimate finally destination.

Each team member were assigned a military rank along with marching orders from the Allied brain trust to ease their efforts to secure transportation and support from military commanders. The mission was often met with opposition from leaders on the ground who did not see the point in potentially sacrificing soldiers or changing tactics to protect art.

What appears on the surface to be a fascinating subject falls flat and rings hollow under Clooney’s guidance. The script co-written by Clooney and Grant Heslov provides little opportunity for character development that is essential to foster a rooting interest. Only the relationship between Preston Savitz (Bob Balaban) and Richard Campbell (Bill Murray) plus to a lesser extent Donald Jeffries (Hugh Bonneville) move toward redemption offer any sign of growth amongst the cast. The rest of the story skims the surface of the subject matter.

An early scene between Frank Stokes and James Granger (Matt Damon) when they discuss potentially  team members is uncomfortably similar to the recruiting scene in Ocean's Eleven. Another ill-conceived scene is the Units Higgins boat landing at Normandy. The squence is meant to show how calm the beach had become since the territory changed into Allied hands but instead has the opposite effect reminding the viewer of a far superior presentation of the event in Saving Private Ryan.

Clooney's directorial work produced a couple of memorable sequences. A significant event occurs on screen toward the middle of the piece. The viewer hears the action off camera followed by a slow arcing pan to the left of the screen to show the aftermath. The other occurs toward the very end of the film when an artifact is discovered in an unlikely location. The find is revealed to each of the Unit members individually building upon and multiplying each members reaction.

The acting in the production is serviceable and for the most part unremarkable. Cate Blanchett is under used as Paris Museum employee (Claire Simone) who may or may not know where the stolen French treasures lie and possibly has ties to the French Resistance. Her main interaction is with Damon's James Granger but there scenes lack any chemistry or depth. Clooney is in smirking autopilot as Frank Stokes. As mentioned above the interplay between Bill Murray's Frank Campbell and Bob Balaban's Preston Savitz are among the best moments in the film. Dimitri Leonidas gives one of the better performances as Sam Epstein a German born New York residence who serves as the groups translator often picking up information from captures German soldiers while proving to be a key figure in deciphering German maps and codes.

The Monuments Men is a film that attempts to present a historically significant event but misses the mark. The film’s cast all have produced excellent work on several past occasions but as a group are let down by the script and direction of the piece. If you have a keen interest in the subject matter and want to see it presented on the large screen proceed with caution but overall it is a film that I cannot recommend.

* 1/2 Out of 4.

The Monuments Men | George Clooney | U.S.A.,Germany | 2014|118 Minutes. 

Tags: World War Two, Nazi's, Adolph Hitler, Art, Historians , Academics, U.S. Army,  British Army, The Ghent Altarpiece, Michelangelo's Bruges Madonna, Neuschwanstein Castle.

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