MONUMENTS MEN – Review by Susan Granger

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Originally intended for Academy Awards consideration, this earnest WW II docudrama-like escapade falls far short of Oscar-caliber. Read on…

Hugh Bonneville (Lord Grantham on“Downton Abbey”) delivers one of the most memorable performances as an alcoholic British art historian, seeking noble redemption as part of the small, multi-national squad headed by Fogg Museum curator/conservationist Frank Stokes (George Clooney), who is determined to preserve Europe’s greatest works of art from acquisition and/or destruction in 1944 by the retreating Nazis.

“If you destroy an entire generation of people’s culture, it’s as if they never existed,” Stokes explains to skeptical then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Working within the newly formed Monuments Fine Arts and Archives (MFAA) program, Stokes’ team also includes an art restorer (Matt Damon), architect (Bill Murray), sculptor (John Goodman) and connoisseur (Bob Balaban). They’re charged with advising front-line commanders and recovering masterpieces looted from museums and private Jewish collections, treasures like Michelangelo’s Madonna of Bruges and Flemish masters Hubert and Jan van Eyck’s 12-panel altarpiece “The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb ” – superbly photographed by Phedon Papamichael. They’re aided by a Paris’ Jeu du Paume Museum assistant curator/collaborator (Cate Blanchett), Ecole des Beaux-Arts painting instructor (Jean Dujardin) and German-Jewish teenage driver/translator (Dimitri Leonidas).

Episodically adapted from Robert M. Edsel’s detailed, true-life account, it’s sketchily scripted with too little structure and too many subplots by George Clooney and his producing partner Grant Heslov and directed by Clooney. The diverse characters should be fascinating, but they aren’t – because their individual roles are not properly fleshed out. And Edsel’s riveting recounting of their battlefield bickering with Army brass has been unduly truncated.

Trivia: Cate Blanchett’s character is based on French Resistance leader Rose Valland, whose memoir inspired John Frankenheimer’s “The Train.” George Clooney’s father Nick appears as elderly Stokes in a 1970s epilogue. And composer Alexandre Desplat does a Resistance worker cameo.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Monuments Men” is a tonally shifting, sermonizing 7 – given unexpected timeliness by the recent discovery in Germany of yet another hidden art collection.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.