Saturday, February 8, 2014

The State Of The Art (Movie Review: The Monuments Man)

I have this theory: put a bunch of great actors together, and if they have the right rapport, a movie can be thoroughly enjoyable even if it is flawed.  That basically how I would describe my reaction to "The Monuments Man."  Director George Clooney has assembled blinding star wattage, with Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, Jean Dujardin, Hugh Boneville from Downton Abbey, John Goodman and Cate Blanchett (plus Clooney himself)  There must be at least half a dozen Oscars between the cast, and it shows. You can see them having fun, interacting, and displaying good acting. Sure one can say that this is just a variation of "The Dirty Dozen, or "ocean 11," but whats wrong with familiarity? I guess this movie was supposed to be Oscar bait, but was pushed back to a February opening instead. That's a smart move, because I think this movie would have been lost in the shuffle. What I like about it is the same thing that others fault it for: Clooney has made a low-key movie, unassuming, and kind of old fashioned. There's a great balance in tone: you are laughing one minute, amazed the next, and be suspensed the minute after. It does seem kind of all over the place, and a bit perfunctory: each actor gets a scene, in an almost by-the-numbers way. Maybe the characters should have been wackier, to show how they succeeded despite their odds. But their subtlety on the way the actors were directed - it seemed they were more challenging you than feeding you their performances. The story itself is amazing, and historically true: a bunch of men were dispatched in various European locations towards the end of the second world war to salvage pieces confiscated by the Nazis because Hitler wanted to build Fuhrer Museum in Linz, Austria to house them. Hitler himself was an art enthusiast, though his ego trumps his passion because he gave instructions that all the artwork be burned and destroyed if he died. I have personally seen some of the pieces they spoke and rescued: the Madonna of Ghent is breathtaking, for example, and I personally think that this mission is justifiable - that is one of the questions asked by the movie, for example. All in all, I thought the movie succeeded. This is a movie for adults, it makes you think about the value art has in our lives, it gives you a chance to see masterful acting by the cast. Few people make and see these kinds of movies nowadays, and I was actually pretty glad to see a packed audience at the theater.

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