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Article by Teddy Durgin

Monuments Men

You can stay home this evening, switch on Turner Classic Movies and lament, "They don't make 'em like this anymore." Or you can go see George Clooney's "The Monuments Men," a rousing, entertaining and very old-fashioned war movie that features big stars and a very big story. I enjoyed the heck out of this movie and was thoroughly transported while watching it. The film is set during the last couple of years of World War II. The Third Reich had conquered much of Europe. In the process, the Nazis stole tons and tons of paintings, sculptures and other great artistic works. Clooney plays Frank Stokes, who is tasked by FDR to assemble an elite group of museum directors, curators, art historians and one architect to track down as many of these pieces as possible and return them to their rightful owners. It becomes a race against time as 1944 eventually gives way to '45. Adolf Hitler's maniacal reign starts to crumble, and the order goes out to destroy all of the stolen treasures. Clooney as director and co-writer is able to strike a good balance here between delivering the witty banter you would expect when you put guys like Matt Damon, Bill Murray and John Goodman together in scenes and the solemn, tragic discoveries this ragtag platoon makes while treading through war-torn Europe trying to save whatever masterpieces they can before they are lost forever to Nazi torches and the random destruction of battle. There are a number of things I love about this movie. First and foremost, I can't go any further without heaping some truly slobbering praise on composer Alexandre Desplat for the amazing musical score he delivers here. Desplat delivers a main theme that will remind film fans of Frank De Vol's "The Dirty Dozen" suite crossed with the iconic "Colonel Bogey March" from "The Bridge on the River Kwai." And then he hits it out of the park throughout the rest of the picture with a big, grand soundtrack that manages to still be subtle where needed. Second, I liked that these were some very different characters plopped down into a WWII movie. The Monuments Men were a group of guys who were intellectuals first and foremost. However, they were also men who had wanted to serve their country in glorious wartime, but hadn't been allowed to do so for one reason or another. Murray's architect Richard Campbell was too old. Damon's James Granger had a heart condition that kept him from service. And Hugh Bonneville's Donald Jeffries had been discharged from his service in the British military because of his alcoholism. So, not only do they feel a duty to the art they're trying to save, but also to their countries. It's very personal. My only major criticism of the film is that I wish each of the Monuments Men were given a few more scenes to emerge as characters. We're only given the very basics of each of the guys - i.e. who's married, what their area of expertise is and so forth. In fact, in my head, I never once thought of them as anything other than "George Clooney," "Matt Damon," "John Goodman, "The French guy from 'The Artist'" and so forth. And I guess if there's one last thing I have to say; it's... screw the critics on this one! The mainstream reviewers, so far, have not been kind to "The Monuments Men." And they're pulling out all of the yuk-yuk artistic references in their reviews. "It's not the masterpiece audiences hoped for." "Clooney paints with too broad a brush." "I doubt 70 years from now any film historian will want to save this film." Hardy-har-har. They're all wrong. All of 'em. And I'm right. "The Monuments Men" is the first great movie of 2014. "The Monuments Men" is rated PG-13 for some images of war violence and historical smoking.

 

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