"The Monuments Men" is anything but monumental.
That's too bad. The fact-based story about the United States' military mission to recover world-renowned works of art confiscated and hidden by the German Nazis during World War II has the earmarks of a bonafide thriller: priceless art, war, Nazis and a stellar cast, including and directed by George Clooney.
A catalogue of attributes doesn't always add up to a great work of art, much less entertaining cinema. "Monuments Men," at times, is a monumental bore.
The pacing is off. There are few compelling scenes. An attempt to inject humor and romance seems part of another movie.
"The Monuments Men" tells us in a title card at the start of the film that it is "based on a true story." The film begins in 1943. It is bookended by Army officer Frank Stokes (Clooney) explaining to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt the importance of the mission and recounting its completion years later, apparently to President Harry S Truman.
Films about the Nazi plundering of paintings, sculpture and objects d'art throughout Europe during World War II have been made before.
There was Burt Lancaster starring in "The Train" (1964), in which a German colonel sent a train filled with French art treasures to Germany in 1944. A very athletic and determined Lancaster makes the black and white classic bristle with action.
There's the documentary film, "The Rape of Europa" (2006), based on the book of the same title by Lynn H. Nicholas, which recounted the Nazis' theft of art from Jewish families.
There are also many great World War II ensemble buddy-bonding dramas, including "The Guns Of Navarone" (1961), "The Great Escape" (1963) and "The Dirty Dozen" (1967), to name a few.
"The Monuments Men" achieves none of the drama, camaraderie and emotional resonance of the great World War II dramatic films, which it strives to emulate.
Clooney co-wrote the screenplay with Grant Heslov ("Good Night, and Good Luck," which Clooney directed), based on the book, "The Monuments Men," by Bret Witter and Robert M. Edsel (co-producer, "The Rape of Europa").
There are a few scenes in "The Monuments Men" which indicate what the film might have been. Two of these scenes involve Matt Damon as James Granger, who is married and stationed in France, and his chaste friendship with Claire Simone, a French secretary played by Cate Blanchett, who is privy to information about the art appropriated by the Nazis. A scene between them at a restaurant and in her apartment create some emotional sparks.
The most memorable scene in "The Monuments Men" is where Stokes (Clooney) interrogates a German Nazi officer that is a case study on being on the wrong side of history.
"The Monuments Men" is not a total loss. Clooney is terse and committed in his portrayal. Damon is expansive and dedicated in his role. Blanchett provides interest with her often smoldering presence.
In secondary roles as architect, sculptor and art historian, respectively, Bill Murray, John Goodman and Bob Balaban appear aloof. Also in the film: Jean Dujardin and Hugh Bonneville.
On the plus side, great care seems to have been taken in the production values for "The Monuments Men," including warfront locales, Nazi art hideaways and depictions of the works of art, including those purported to be by Picasso, Vermeer and Rembrandt. Much of the art looted by the Nazis was stored at Neuschwanstein Castle, which is shown briefly in the film.
"The Monuments Men" squanders its treasure in subject matter and talent. "The Monuments Men," a film about the theft of masterpieces, is no masterpiece.
"The Monuments Men," MPAA rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned. Some Material May Be Inappropriate For Children Under 13.) for some images of war violence and historical smoking; Genre: Action, Biography, Drama, War; Run time: 1 hr., 58 min.; Distributed by 20th Century Fox, Columbia Pictures.
Credit Readers Anonymous: At the conclusion of "The Monuments Men," the actor playing the older Frank Stokes visiting the Madonna of Bruges, one of the works of art sought, is George Clooney's father, Nick Clooney. At the beginning of the end credits, black and white photos of the real "Monuments Men" with some of the art they saved are shown.
Box Office, Feb. 28: Unlikely action hero Liam Neeson was "Non-Stop," which opened at No. 1 with $28.8 million, couldn't be stopped by "Son of God," opening at No. 2, with $25. 6 million, and knocked "The Lego Movie" off the No. 1 block after three weeks in a row, to No. 3, $20.8 million, $209.1 million, four weeks;
4. "3 Days To Kill," $4.9 million, $20.7 million, two weeks; 5. "The Monuments Men," $4.9 million, $65.6 million, four weeks; 6. "RoboCop" $4.5 million, $51.2 million, three weeks; 7. "Pompeii," $4.3 million, $17.7 million, two weeks; 8. "Frozen" (Oscars: animated film, "Let It Go" song), $3.6 million, $388.7 million, 15 weeks; 9. "About Last Night," $3.3 million, $43.7 million, three weeks; 10. "Ride Along," $3 million, $127.1 million, seven weeks;
Unreel, March 7:
"The Grand Budapest Hotel," R: The lives of a legendary concierge and his assistant at a European hotel in the era between World War I and World War II are depicted. Wes Anderson ("Moonrise Kingdom") wrote the screenplay and directs a star-studded cast of Bill Murray, Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Jude Law, Lea Seydoux, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, F. Murray Abraham, Harvey Keitel, Jeff Goldblum, Tom Wilkinson, Saoirse Ronan and Edward Norton in the comedy-drama.
"300: Rise of An Empire," R: As the myth goes, Greek general Themistokles defends against the invading Persian forces led by mortal-turned-god Xerxes and Artemisia, vengeful commander of the Persian navy. Lena Headey, Eva Green, Rodrigo Santoro and Sullivan Stapleton star in the action drama.
"Mr. Peabody & Sherman," PG: The WABAC Machine is back. Mr. Peabody and Sherman go back in time with a new look, thanks to computer-generated imagery. Voice talent for the animation adventure includes that of Stephen Colbert and Leslie Mann.
Read Paul Willistein's movie reviews at the Lehigh Valley Press web site, thelehighvalley-press.com; the Times-News web site, tnonline.com; and hear them on "Lehigh Valley Art Salon," 6 - 6:30 p.m. Mondays, WDIY 88.1 FM, and wdiy.org, where they're archived. Email Paul Willistein: email@example.com. You can follow Paul Willistein on Twitter and friend Paul Willistein on facebook.
Two Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes