Monumentally good | Inquirer Entertainment

Monumentally good

By: - Desk Editor
/ 03:33 AM February 09, 2014

ART BRIGADE (from left): John Goodman, Matt Damon, George Clooney, Bob Balaban and Bill Murray.

George Clooney has one of the most diverse filmographies of any successful actor, but as a director, he has always preferred smart, snappy dramas that stand out from the pack, everything from 2002’s “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” to 2011’s “The Ides of March.” With the colorful “The Monuments Men,” Clooney’s fifth feature film as a director, he continues to work on that theme, this time featuring the most unlikely mission of World War II.

GEORGE Clooney (left) directs Jean Dujardin on the set.

As the Nazis stormed through Europe, Adolf Hitler ordered his soldiers to steal priceless pieces of art from museums and collections for his personal museum. In order to recover the art and return them to their owners, an art expert named Frank Stokes (Clooney) convinces United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt to form a special military unit composed of architects and artists called “Monuments Men.”


Ragtag gang


With museum curator James Granger (“Oceans Eleven” collaborator Matt Damon) as his right-hand man, Stokes enlists a ragtag, multinational group of operatives and heads off to Europe. There, the Monuments Men suffer from the military’s indifference, enemy fire and, as the war is ending, the coming of the Russians. Will the Monuments Men be able to find the plundered masterpieces before the Germans destroy them in a final act of desperation? The key may lie in whether Granger can convince a defiant French museum worker (the ever striking Cate Blanchett) to trust him with crucial information she has gathered at great risk to herself.

MATT Damon and Cate Blanchett: Easy chemistry

Men under fire

“The Monuments Men” is a condensed, fictionalized take on the 2009 nonfiction book of the same title by Robert M. Edsel and Bret Witter. Clooney has taken what you would expect from a WWII film and played it for both laughs and smarts. “The Monuments Men” has the requisite (and considerably mild) men-under-fire sequences, but Clooney has clearly bought into the book’s central question: Is saving a piece of art—no matter how precious—really worth a man’s life? The movie is Clooney’s answer.

It helps that Clooney has assembled a platoon of prodigious talent to play the titular Monuments Men themselves: Bill Murray (“Lost in Translation”), John Goodman (“Monsters, Inc.”), Bob Balaban (“Moonrise Kingdom”), Frenchman Jean Dujardin (“The Artist”) and Brit Hugh Bonneville (TV’s “Downton Abbey”).

Jingle and jangle

The easy chemistry between these seasoned actors playing the ultimate fish-out-of-water roles makes the punch lines and comedic elements jingle and jangle, counterpointed nicely with Blanchett’s impressively straight-faced performance. As head honcho Stokes, Clooney provides a dashing yet steady presence.


After all, Clooney balances the film’s lighter moments with a no-nonsense commitment to art history. Indeed, “The Monuments Men” could easily double as a pop primer on the work of the Old Masters. Fine arts education by movie is never a bad thing. Here, Clooney has spiritedly engineered a heist-in-reverse with meaning—where the heroes find instead of steal in an altruistic treasure hunt—meshing the natural irreverence of 2008’s “Leatherheads” with the self-aware gravitas of 2005’s “Good Night, and Good Luck.” Clooney is out to engage and enlighten.

In that sense, “The Monuments Men” is in every frame a George Clooney film inside and out, driven by both aspiration and dedication, an intelligent and entertaining true-life story of unusual bravery by the unlikeliest of war heroes as well as a thoughtful meditation of the relative virtue of art against the backdrop of war.

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20th Century Fox’s “The Monuments Men” opens in local cinemas on Feb. 12.

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