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MOVIE REVIEW: 'Monuments Men' harks back to an earlier war-movie era

By: Cary Darling Fort Worth Star-Telegram
February 6, 2014 Updated: February 6, 2014 at 9:32 am
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photo - Matt Damon and George Clooney star in "The Monuments Men." Courtesy Columbia Pictures.
Matt Damon and George Clooney star in "The Monuments Men." Courtesy Columbia Pictures. 

They don't make 'em like "The Monuments Men" anymore.

For those of a certain age - or who simply have a deep interest in American war films -? this George Clooney-directed WWII drama recalls the kind of stout-hearted combat movie that seemed to be so popular from the 1950s through the early '70s. In fact, the plot ?- a group of older art experts recruited to sneak into Europe and rescue priceless works before the Germans or the Russians can get them - recalls the likes of "The Dirty Dozen" or "Kelly's Heroes."

There's none of "Saving Private Ryan's" graphic realism or "Inglorious Basterds'" cheeky cultural horseplay. There are no shades of gray. Even the score by Alexandre Desplat and the closing credits seem straight out of 1962. All of that is kind of cool in theory but, as a film, "The Monuments Men" falls short even if its message - forms of creativity are worth preserving even in times of disaster ?-? remains a compelling one.

Based on a true story and the book of the same name by Robert M. Edsel and Bret Witter, "The Monuments Men" - with its shifting tone between light comedy and drama - rarely gets the viewer invested enough to really care what happens. And that's unfortunate, because it really is a fascinating footnote in history.

Clooney is Frank Stokes, an art historian who at the beginning of the film is begging President Franklin Roosevelt to send a team to Europe to salvage much of the West's cultural heritage. The president is intrigued but tasks Stokes with putting together a team of fellow art professionals to do it himself. So Stokes calls museum curator James Granger (Matt Damon) and others in the field. Once in Europe, Granger has to track down Claire Simone (Cate Blanchett), a double agent who works for the Nazi bureau in charge of taking art to Germany, where Hitler wants to open a sprawling Fuehrer Museum. However, she really has ties with the Resistance and is keeping tabs on where the art is going.

All of this is rife with possibilities, but the setup is too rushed. Clooney and co-writer Grant Heslov only offer thin character sketches, so when everyone is put in jeopardy, their fates don't really matter. On top of that, there are moments of mild humor that aren't particularly funny. It's just one of the more obvious ways that this all-star cast is underutilized.

"The Monuments Men"

Cast: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett

Director: George Clooney

Running time: 118 minutes

Rated: PG-13 for some images of war violence and historical smoking

Grade: C

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