"The Monuments Men" is the "Last Vegas" of World War II movies, a roughly true/fictionally embellished account of the efforts of American arts scholars - drafted into the Army - to preserve the artistic patrimony of Europe from the scourge of combat and theft by the Germans. It is a cute but clunky ensemble piece that director George Clooney rarely bestows with the gravitas and jauntiness this material demanded.
They changed the names from the historic "Monuments Men," whose exploits were recounted in a book by Robert M. Edsel and Bret Witter.
Clooney and co-adaptor Grant Heslov had to sex it up a bit, give the tale more thriller elements. But it still makes for a genial combat picture starring a bunch of guys "too old for this."
Clooney plays the guy tasked with assembling a team of men of experience, all of them shoved into ill-fitting uniforms, given rudimentary basic training and thrust into combat zones, battling murderously thieving Germans, suspicious occupied French and their own "No painting is worth a GI's life" commanders.
"This is our history," Stokes (Clooney) pep-talks his troops. "It's not to be stolen or destroyed. It's to be held up and admired."
But that's what the Nazi leadership was doing - swiping the famed Ghent Altarpiece, Michelangelo's "Madonna of Bruges" and pretty much anything that wasn't nailed down in Paris.
John Goodman plays a garrulous sculptor, Matt Damon an art restorer and museum director with a misplaced confidence in his command of French. Bob Balaban and Bill Murray are mismatched curator and architect with enough training to track the thievery. And Oscar winner Jean Dujardin ("The Artist") and Hugh Bonneville ("Downton Abbey") are the token Frenchman and Brit.
The story skips across locations and shows us the history and the stoic efforts to track the thefts by heroic French curator Claire, played by Cate Blanchett.
It is difficult to justify the changes made to the real-life heroine of the French Resistance, Rose Valland, to create Blanchett's character, a big reason this movie was removed from Oscar consideration. Another is that "The Monuments Men" just isn't that good.