Sunday, March 9, 2014

Monuments Men (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Monuments Men

George Clooney (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind) directs and stars in "Monuments Men" a tepid rendering of Robert M. Edsel's provocative book about the brave repossession of many prized works of art stolen by The Nazis during WWII.

Clooney is Frank Stokes in charge of gathering six men to recover the priceless works from the SS. He is properly mustached, tan, square jawed and resolute, but the acting is heavy handed and a bit sentimental in such a way that we don't really get a sense that Stokes cares in a meaningful or authentic way about his quest to locate the imperiled art. Frank gives a grand speech about the rescue of art, culture and free expression. While this is a very important and worthwhile message, not to mention the inclusive novel story of art historians who treat art as POWs, and rightly so, it is done with such broad strokes in the manner of a primer that it lacks substance and has little nourishment.

Matt Damon is here in his handsome U.S. Army glory as Lt. James Granger, as is a nearly expressionless Bill Murray and a puffy and cumulous-like John Goodman. Damon, Goodman and Murray seem interchangeable. None of them emote much feeling or dialogue. Murray's character breaks down in the shower hearing a Christmas Carol, but rather than displaying any uniqueness, his tears feel strangely remote.

Cate Blanchett and Jean Dujardin duly appear but they are drawn with flat brushes as an austere, heavily accented spy and a heavily accented and sugary sounding Frenchman, respectively.

The cinematography---a welcome contrast---is crisp and stirring with an ease of motion, elegant and swift. We are in France, Germany and Belgium all in the blink of an eye and we are carried along, mentally if not emotionally.

The film does have an oddly quaint nostalgic quality and this could be appealing. The Men stalk and stub their toes. They scramble about in olive green and smoking jeeps that resemble worn but cute tortoises of war, echoing those grand old films starring the likes of Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine. If Clooney had gone all the way, this film could have been a rollicking, fun and poignant ride. But as it is modeled here, the events appear a bit too staged and removed. Case and point is Hitler himself as a mere mannequin staring at his Plaster of Paris Orwellian vision.

There just isn't much for these rambling and rumbling men to do.

This is not to say that  recovering art must be exciting or worthy of a cliffhanger but I bet it could have been.

The only comic relief we get is of Murray getting a tooth pulled and this wears thin. Such a vignette plays like a WC Fields sketch sans zingers.

That said, there is a bit of meaningful thought and pathos in a confession by Jeffries (Hugh Bonneville) that is evocative, while Joel Basman playing a German officer is someone as shark-eyed and sinister as you'll ever see.

And, in terms of kitsch and camp, it is enjoyable to see Clooney's real life father, Nick, gentle and white haired  in the role of Stokes as an old man.

Overall though, with such striking visuals in portraying  a Madonna by Michelangelo as a person of spirit and flesh, it is an anticlimax that the only "Monuments Men" to be found are these uniform and granite-faced characters outfitted in lethargic acting.

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