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Movie review: George Clooney's 'Monuments Men' is all about the art

Published February 7, 2014 10:03 am

Review • It can be a bit preachy, but it's gorgeous to look at.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

In "Monuments Men," George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray and John Goodman kick Hitler's butt — figuratively, of course. And not in a traditional World War II movie kind of way.

This fact-based film, directed by Clooney, tells the story of a special squad of Allies who set out to save as much great art the Nazis had stolen as they could. And put their lives on the line to do it.

A mostly episodic film, it is, alternately, great fun, high drama, tear-jerker and civics lesson. Some episodes work great, while others are less effective.

Clooney stars as George Stout, an art historian who recruits a team of mostly middle-aged men to preserve Western culture in the midst of the worst war the world has ever known. He recruits art curator James Granger (Damon), architect Richard Campbell (Murray), sculptor Walter Garfield (Goodman), art historian Preston Savitz (Bob Balaban), disgraced British art expert Donald Jeffries (Hugh Bonneville, "Downton Abbey") and French art dealer Jean-Claude Clermont (Jean Dujardin). Young Sam Epstein (Dimitri Leonidas), a Jew who escaped Germany just before the war began, joins them as driver and translator.

The only female character in the film, Claire Simone (Cate Blanchett), plays a key role in the search for the stolen art.

It's a great cast with undeniable chemistry. Clooney and Damon are having a great time, Goodman is a hoot, and Murray and Balaban have all the makings of a great comedy team.

"Monuments Men" is not, however, a comedy. This is serious stuff.

The tone is reminiscent of "M*A*S*H." "Monuments Men" is filled with charming characters who have a sense of humor in the midst of the horror of war. And, as on the TV series, some episodes are better than others.

When the team arrives at Normandy shortly after the invasion, the enormity of what's happened weighs down on them with barely a word of dialogue.

That is not the case throughout the film. It would have been a bit iffy if the narrative had ground to a halt once as Stout pontificated on the reasons it was so important to save these masterpieces; it actually happens repeatedly throughout the film. Clooney delivers the sermons with great charm and convinces both the military commanders in the movie and the audience in the theater, but it comes across as more than a bit preachy.

"Monuments Men" is fantastic to look at throughout, however. The production is amazing, re-creating everything from occupied Paris to German mines (where art was hidden) incredibly convincingly.

And there's a bit of a bonus for Utah moviegoers in the final moments when the decades-older Stout is played by former KSTU-Ch. 13 anchorman Nick Clooney, George's father.

"Monuments Men" isn't perfect, but it's worth the price of admission.

spierce@sltrib.com

Twitter: @ScottDPierce —

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'Monuments Men'

George Clooney leads a team that tries to recover art stolen by the Nazis during WWII.

Where • Theaters everywhere.

When • Opens Friday.

Rating • PG-13 for war-related violence and some strong language.

Running time • 119 minutes.