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The Monuments Men DVD Review

The Monuments Men (2014) movie poster The Monuments Men

Theatrical Release: February 7, 2014 / Running Time: 118 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: George Clooney / Writers: George Clooney, Grant Heslov (screenplay); Robert M. Edsel, Bret Witter (book)

Cast: George Clooney (Frank Stokes), Matt Damon (James Granger), Bill Murray (Richard Campbell), Cate Blanchett (Claire Simone), John Goodman (Walter Garfield), Jean Dujardin (Jean Claude Clermont), Hugh Bonneville (Donald Jeffries), Bob Balaban (Preston Savitz), Dimitri Leonidas (Sam Epstein), Justus von Dohnányi (Viktor Stahl), Holger Handtke (Colonel Wegner), Michael Hofland (Priest Claude), Zahary Baharov (Commander Elya), Michael Brandner (Dentist), Sam Hazeldine (Colonel Langton), Miles Jupp (Major Feilding), Alexandre Desplat (Emile), Diarmaid Murtagh (Captain Harpen)

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On paper, The Monuments Men sounded like an Oscar winner. It hailed from Academy Award fixture George Clooney, who directed the film in addition to writing and producing it with Grant Heslov. Clooney also headed a cast filled with respected talents, including Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett,
Bill Murray, The Artist's Jean Dujardin, and John Goodman, who seemed destined to feature in a third consecutive Best Picture winner. More important than any of that, though, was the story: a true and relatively unknown chapter from the end of World War II involving a team assigned to retrieve and protect endangered, priceless works of art. The scheduled December 18th release date was a no-brainer for an obvious prestige picture.

Then, late last October, the film got bumped to 2014, effectively ending its award campaign before it could begin. Reasons cited included the time needed to complete visual effects and for composer Alexandre Desplat to record his score. Columbia Pictures, which wound up opening legitimate contender American Hustle in its place, at least spared Monuments Men a release in the notorious month of January. Still, it debuted on February's first Friday to decidedly mixed reviews, leaving moviegoers and cynics to speculate that it was not just visual effects and music keeping Monuments Men from the optimal award season timing of a Christmastime unveiling.

The Monuments Men (including Bill Murray, George Clooney, John Goodman, and Jean Dujardin) reach the shore at Normandy Beach.

As a February movie, The Monuments Men has the heavy weight of high expectations lifted from its arrival. Still, many will be surprised to find a World War II film of such pedigree being so light, uneven, and unfulfilling. Whether intentionally or something born out of the editing process, the film plays like one of Clooney and Damon's Ocean's Eleven capers. It's often breezily comedic, kind of cool (or might have been in the 1940s), and very reliant on an appealing ensemble.

Clooney plays Frank Stokes, an American art historian who pitches this idea to the largely unseen President Roosevelt. Stokes makes a compelling case for risking lives to save great art and thus he is placed in charge of assembling a group of older men who possess an appreciation for art. They include his pal James Granger (Damon), French plane nose artist Jean Claude Clermont (Jean Dujardin), a sculptor (Goodman), tour guide Richard Campbell (Murray), and a Brit (Hugh Bonneville).

After some scaled-back basic training, they break into twos to approach Central Europe from the west and south. Granger connects with a serious French curator (Blanchett) imprisoned by Nazis and suspicious of the whole project. The Brit sets his sights on protecting a Michelangelo statue of the Madonna at a church in Bruges. Campbell trades barbs with his sensitive, diminutive partner (Bob Balaban).

The mustachioed Frank Stokes (George Clooney) does some monologuing for a cocky Nazi war criminal. Cate Blanchett adopts a French accent and a serious demeanor as Claire Simone, a curator who assists The Monuments Men.

Laughs are light and few, but the movie doesn't have any more success when it gets serious and attempts to move us. The most flagrant attempt comes during the Battle of the Bulge,
as a record from back home with an impeccably sung "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" played over the PA makes Campbell tear up in the shower.

As it should coming from someone who has made his share of smart, substantial films, Monuments Men has its moments. The best and most gift-wrapped of them may be when Stokes puts a Nazi general's war crimes into perspective with a powerful, well-delivered smartass monologue. For the most part, though, Clooney is content to let this film coast in an agreeable way. We never get too deep into any of these characters. They're there to share the dialogue and action, not do much more than that.

Desplat's playful score feels lifted from a 1940s military comedy, finding a tone by which the film can be deemed successful. Monuments Men works in a way that an old Bing Crosby movie might. The historical weight of the story is not much greater than the backdrop for Raiders of the Lost Ark. Clooney and Heslov aren't making any grand statements about war. They shy from politics altogether. They're just telling the tale of men who risked their lives for something they believed in. In doing so, they help these heroes be remembered longer and more clearly, though less long and clear than a better movie would.

As a piece of awards bait, Monuments Men fails. As a wide release studio film that opened in February, it's a lot easier to take. It's not nearly as enjoyable as the original Ocean's Eleven and the fact that can even be compared to that will disappoint those wanting a meaningful, historical war drama.

Hitting home video just in time for Memorial Day and Father's Day, the film is sure to be long forgotten by the time 2014's Oscar race starts to heat up in the fall.

The Monuments Men DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.40:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, English DVS, French, French DVS)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled in English
Release Date: May 20, 2014
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $30.99
Black Keepcase
Also available in Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack ($35.99 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Approaching this from a regular diet of Blu-ray, The Monuments Men doesn't look so great on DVD. The 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer exhibits no unique flaws, but the limitations of standard definition are obvious, with the picture being sort of soft, dark, and fuzzy. Not helping matters is that foreign dialogue is translated by blocky player-generated subtitles. At least the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is fittingly potent.

George Clooney dresses down to direct his castmates in "George Clooney's Mission." Academy Award winner Jean Dujardin has nice things to say about all but one of his co-stars in "Marshaling the Troops."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

On DVD, The Monuments Men is accompanied by just two short featurettes.

"George Clooney's Mission" (5:11) discusses the
director/star's multiple duties with genuine praise and a bit of sarcasm.

"Marshaling the Troops" (7:55) covers the cast, with actors expressing awe at the company they find themselves in, again with the occasional tongue in cheek.

The disc opens with Sony's "Be Moved" promo, an anti-tobacco spot, and trailers for American Hustle, Pompeii, and Stalingrad. A Previews section provides access to the three trailers plus ones for Gambit and A Fighting Man, but none for The Monuments Men.

The basic main menu places score over the cover/poster design. Running with the same orange and black motif, the other static menus are silent.

An insert supplying your UltraViolet/Sony Rewards code accompanies the plain silver disc inside the unslipcovered keepcase.

"You're either in or you're out. Right now." Stokes (George Clooney) recruits James Granger (Matt Damon) for the Monuments Men. James Granger (Matt Damon) has accidentally stepped on an old landmine that may or not may be active.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Based on its subject matter and wealth of talent, The Monuments Men surprises and disappoints. You expect an important and moving drama, but only get a World War II version of Ocean's Eleven that isn't as much fun as that sounds. While there are some nice moments and the film never gets terrible, it's too corny, sentimental, and uneven to appreciate as anything but a 1940s war comedy throwback.

With its mediocre picture and paltry supplements, Sony's DVD doesn't do the film justice. Those wanting to own the movie will probably do better with the Blu-ray combo pack, but even that seems better suited for a little patience and a bargain bin buy.

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Related Reviews:
George Clooney: The Ides of March • Ocean's Thirteen • The Men Who Stare at Goats • Gravity • The Descendants • Fantastic Mr. Fox
Matt Damon: Behind the Candelabra • Contagion • Invictus | Bill Murray: The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou • Scrooged • Rushmore
Cate Blanchett: Blue Jasmine • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button • Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
John Goodman: Argo • Arachnophobia | Jean Dujardin: The Wolf of Wall Street | Bob Balaban: Girl Most Likely
New: Amistad • Her • Labor Day • The Godfather Part III • The Terminal • August: Osage County

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Reviewed May 16, 2014.



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