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The Monuments Men - Review

The Monuments Men

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3.5 out of 5

GEORGE Clooney’s World War II drama The Monuments Men may have its flaws but it remains a fascinating and enjoyable experience that deserves to find a wide audience.

Inspired by Robert M Edsel’s book of the same name, which recounts the true story of how a group of museum directors, curators and art historians formed an unlikely platoon and travelled into Europe to prevent Hitler’s Nazis from destroying key works of art they had stolen, it’s a leisurely take on a landmark moment in history that nevertheless boasts high entertainment value.

Much of this lies in the shrewd casting. Clooney heads up the ensemble but along for the ride, too, are the likes of Matt Damon, John Goodman, The Artist‘s Jean Dujardin, Cate Blanchett, Hugh Bonneville, Bob Balaban and – last but by no means least – Bill Murray, all of whom display such a winning camaraderie that it’s hard not to be engaged with them on some level.

Yet as director, too, Clooney invests the film with a sense of visual grandeur that adheres to the classic war movies of yesteryear while finding time to admire the art that its protagonists are risking their lives to save.

Hence, both the magnitude of their achievements and the importance of their act for future generations (both in terms of preservation and education) doesn’t get lost. Clooney maintains that the film is a respectful homage to this important but little-known chapter in history and the resulting film feels that way.

Names have been changed so that Clooney and co-writer Grant Heslov could heighten the dramatic arc of several cast members (without insulting the memory of any real-life heroes). And a certain amount of licence has also been taken with key moments. But the spirit of what the real-life monuments men achieved is maintained.

The flaws, ironically, stem from some of those creative decisions that are more about filmmaking than historical accuracy. The sheer size of the story means that Clooney has a lot to cram into two hours and, to a certain extent, their Europe-trotting adventures comes at the expense of really getting to know the characters. A little more time spent in their company early on would have enhanced the emotional arc even more.

It’s a tribute to the skills of the likes of Clooney, Goodman, Damon and Bonneville, therefore, that the film does remain affecting when it wants to be. There are a handful of genuinely poignant moments, such as a shower scene involving Murray receiving a Christmas message that is intercut with the more painful elements of war.

The score, too, is a little manipulative and over-bearing at certain points (and something that actors of this calibre don’t need to assist them), while the tone may be a little uneven for some – sentimental at some points, the film is perhaps a little too glib at others (with a landmine sequence involving one of the main characters a particular case in point of getting things wrong).

Yet even with these criticisms in mind, Clooney’s film remains a fitting monument of its own to a remarkable story that has long deserved to be told. It is a class act that, if not the masterpiece it could have been, still manages to leave a lasting impression.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 118mins
UK Release Date: February 14, 2014