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Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Monuments Men 2014 * * 1/2 Stars

The Monuments MenDirector: George Clooney
Year: 2014
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: George Clooney, Matt Damon, John Goodman, Bill Murray

If you combined elements from cinematic fare like MASH (1970), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), and Ocean's Eleven (2001), you'd get The Monuments Men. And despite these elements, this film as a whole, still manages to border on the edge of tedium. Shot capably and lushly by integrity-minded George Clooney, "Men" was supposed to have been released for Oscar season in December of 2013. So much for that. Its now February and here we have something that has such a calm, somber, almost mute feel to it. There are some nice images and some effective, individual moments. But in the big picture, it feels unfinished not to mention half-baked. It seems like scenes were left out. As a result, for almost two hours, a sense of intrigue or suspense is sorely lacking. Also, I couldn't decide whether The Monuments Men was a comedy, a drama, or in fact even a war film (almost no combat at all).

Clooney, looking like your typical matinee idol and resembling Clark Gable from Gone With the Wind, does double duty as star and director here. He spins a web about a true story depicting seven important people. It's WWII and Clooney's Lt. Frank Stokes decides to recruit these seven men consisting of museum curators, architects, and art historians. They are obviously too old to fight in a war yet they go through basic training, wear uniforms, carry firearms, and basically pose as soldiers trying to retrieve stolen art. This is art that could be lost in battle or even taken by the Nazis. Stokes gets the OK for this action by way of a letter from President Franklin D. Roosevelt. And from that moment on, the recapturing of sculptures, paintings, etc.., is seen as way more important than the gauge of human life. Speaking of human life, in "Men" there is very little character buildup and it's hard to feel anything for anyone involved. In fact, a couple of members from the Monuments group actually die. No one even makes a fuss about it as evident from the choppy editing by Stephen Mirrione (he edited 2000's Traffic).

The cast or for a better word contributors, consist of an assortment of great actors. Matt Damon plays Lt. James Granger, Bill Murray plays Sgt. Richard Campbell, and John Goodman plays Sgt. Walter Garfield to name three. Clooney, riffing off his character Danny Ocean from Ocean's Eleven mentioned earlier, uses everyone sparingly as a director. He gives them almost no room to breathe. By the time the closing credits come up, their images are plastered on screen (along with their names). This seemed kind of laughable as I sat in the theater because it felt like these guys were barely in the film to begin with. I mean Bill Murray was completely held back. Featured in "Men" as the chief architect, he doesn't have anything or anyone to bounce off of. I've seen Murray underplay roles before but this was really hard to watch. It's not his fault but along with the rest of the cast, he seemed to be slumming it. Heck, the whole film seemed to be slumming it.

Overall, The Monuments Men is a vehicle in which not much happens. And it's really not a whole lot of movie to begin with. Now I no doubt think of George Clooney as a fine director. With "Men" though, he doesn't make an awful film, just a "monumentally" misguided one.

Written by Jesse Burleson

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