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'The Monuments Men' review: It requires nerves of steel to get through

Feb 21, 2014 10:40 PM IST India India
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Cast: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, John Goodman, Bill Murray, Jean Dujardin, Hugh Bonneville, Bob Balaban

Director: George Clooney

The Monuments Men, co-written and directed by George Clooney, sees a band of ageing art experts venture to the front lines of World War II to recover important works of art stolen by the Nazis. It's a fascinating true-life story that has suspense, hidden treasure, and the ultimate villain - Hitler. Still the film requires nerves of steel to get through.

Clooney himself plays Harvard art conservationist Frank Stokes, who handpicks his team and then leads them to Germany to find such priceless artefacts as the Ghent Altarpiece and the Bruges Madonna by Michelangelo. This Dirty Dozen-type team of academics and professionals comprises such terrific actors as Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban and Hugh Boneville, while Cate Blanchett stars as a French curator who is first suspicious of the mission, then helpful in tracking down the pilfered works.

Despite excellent performances from the cast, and any number of enjoyable comic scenes, the film doesn't quite work because it can't seem to get a fix on the tone it wants to take, seesawing inconsistently between breezy and somber. There are moments of light humor (mostly in the exchanges between Murray and Balaban), and some poignant bits as the men risk their lives to save valuable pieces of art. What's lacking throughout the picture is a sense of urgency, even when lives are in imminent danger. A scene in which Damon accidently steps on an explosive mine is never tense, instead schmaltzy. Things do pick up in the last twenty minutes, with our heroes hurrying to locate and rescue major artworks before the Germans can destroy them or the Russians can get their hands on them. But it's too little too late by then.

It's evident from the repeated speeches Clooney makes about the value of art and culture that he remains committed to directing popular films that still manage to say something important about the world. But while The Monuments Men has a noble message at its heart, it's just not very satisfying as a whole. I'm going with two out of five. A crushing disappointment.

Rating: 2 / 5

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