Reviews for the Easily Distracted:
The Monuments Men

Title:The Monuments Men

Wasn't This Supposed to Come Out Last Year? Yes, it was. Go figure.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant to the Film: Two and a half Flying Hellfish out of five.

Brief Plot Summary Top men race to save precious antiquities from Nazis. Top. Men.

Tagline: "It was the greatest art heist in history."

Better Tagline: "Saving Private Renoit."

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: In the early days of World War II (and even before), Adolf Hitler set out to plunder the museums and private collections of Europe in order to stock a future Fuhrer Museum. As the war swung in the Allies' favor, the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program was formed to recover and preserve this artwork before it could be destroyed or lost forever. These "Monuments Men" not only saved countless works of art, but also worked with Allied troops to preserve surviving landmarks.

Wow, That Sounds Like an Interesting Movie. I suppose it might have been.

"Critical" Analysis: Lately we've heard a lot (whether we wanted to or not) about the difficulty some people have reconciling their love for an artist's creative output with the possibility the artist himself might be a [dickbag of the highest order]. This has come to the fore recently thanks to Dylan Farrow's "open letter" to adoptive father Woody Allen, but really, it's a fairly constant dilemma, as any fan of Roman Polanski/R. Kelly/Phil Spector/Bill Cosby/Orson Scott Card can tell you.

But what about the opposite of "love the art, hate the artist?" What if you find certain performers to be such stand-up folks it tempers your critical perception of their work? Is that a thing? And if it is, does my respect for George Clooney and Matt Damon explain why I wanted to like The Monuments Men more than I did?

Because in all honesty, there are some serious tonal issues with the film, almost as if writer/director/lead actor Clooney couldn't decide between filming a high-stakes heist treatment the story seemingly demanded, or making broader statements about the importance of art in the context of ephemeral human regimes. Clooney's "Lt. Stokes" speaks with emotion about the necessity of the mission and its sacrifices when briefing President Roosevelt (and debriefing President Truman), yet in the next scene he's trading barbs with Damon like they're filming an Ocean's sequel.

Certainly the two approaches can go hand in hand, but in not wanting to lean too heavily on one interpretation, Clooney and co-writer/producer Grant Heslov have left us with a movie that fails to satisfy on just about every level. One example: You've got two of the greatest comic actors of all time in Bill Murray and John Goodman, and you give them *nothing*, to the point where half the time it looks like they really, really wanted to cut loose but were told they gave up the right to improv along with their usual hefty salaries.

I mean, do you want to live in a world where Bob Balaban gets the best lines?

A restrained sense of humor might be understandable if the story had any sense of urgency or consistency, but this feels more like a Hope-Crosby road picture than a frantic race against time. After initial dire pronouncements, Stokes and company more or less saunter through the next months, with emphasis given to humorous personal interludes and almost no attention paid to the MFAA's actual impressive resourcefulness.

The better to manufacture some romantic tension between Matt Damon and Cate Blanchett's characters, I suppose. And possibly the reason their characters (and Clooney's), unlike the rest of the cast's, aren't named after their real-life counterparts.

That may be a result of some liberties taken with historic events. For example, the final sequence, set in the Austrian town of Altaussee, is presented as a nailbiting countdown -- not just against the possibility of the Germans destroying a number of significant works -- but against invading Soviets seeking material reparations for Soviet depredations. Trouble is, that didn't really happen, but Argo-style dramatic climaxes are all the rage these days.

And was it even necessary? The story of the MFAA is one of the great untold tales of WWII, yet Clooney has not only created a unwieldy dichotomy between comedy and drama, he further complicates things by making the former unfunny and the latter unmoving.

The Monuments Men is in theaters today. Now, how many of you are familiar with the concept of a "tontine"?

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