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Byron Shire
March 4, 2021

The Monuments Men

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Of the current crop, George Clooney is one of the very few actors who might comfortably carry the old epithet of matinee idol.

Handsome in a ‘golden years of Hollywood’ way and equally adept at romantic comedy as drama (a crossover too challenging for most), he can hold a movie together through his mere participation in it.

Matt Damon, more earthy and earnest than glamorous, has a similarly weighty screen presence.

It is just as well for the high-minded but curiously under-achieving film The Monuments Men, that both men are involved, for without them its lack of drive, of any mounting tension might have proved terminal.

As director and co-writer (he and Grant Heslov’s script feels patchy, under-worked), Clooney has attempted what many would baulk at – a discourse on high art and its essential, timeless value to society in a vehicle designed for a mainstream, mass audience that might otherwise not give two figs for Jan van Eyck’s magnificent Ghent Altarpiece.

It is a terrific story – while trashing Europe, the Nazis were looting the great paintings and statuary of the countries they overran with the idea of housing them in Hitler’s planned Fuhrer Museum.

An elite squad of citizen soldiers under the command of Frank Stokes (Clooney) was sent to Europe after the D-Day invasion to find and recover as many of the works that they could.

The sets, costumes and cinematography are first rate (there’s a beautiful nocturnal shot of a bi-plane flying over Paris) but there are too many disconnected scenes that fail to merge into a compelling whole.

The temperature of Damon’s romance with the French secretary (Cate Blanchett) never rises above tepid, the jousting buddy gags between John Goodman and Bob Ballaban fall flat and Bill Murray, apart from having a tooth hilariously extracted, is completely out of place – I wanted more of the charismatic Jean Dujardin.

Poignant in parts, but generally flat, Clooney is to be applauded at least for challenging the prevailing mindset that knows the price of everything but the value of nothing.

~ John Campbell

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