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February 7, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Rarely do critics split as widely as they have over George Clooney’s The Monuments Men. Those who find fault with the movie — and they represent the majority — blast it. Those who admire it, extol it. A few critics take a middle ground, but very few. In the first sentence of his review, Peter Howell in the Toronto Star describes the film as “an exercise in embalming war-movie clichés,” then goes on to write that “in seeking to tell a backstage story of World War II heroics, the quest to recover millions of European art riches stolen by Nazi Germany, Clooney and his writing/producing partner Grant Heslov entomb rather than elevate.” Compare that reaction to that of Rex Reed in the New York Observer, who writes that “a movie this massive serves bravos” and who concludes that The Monuments Men is “one hell of a monumental motion picture.” Now consider Ty Burr’s view of the film in the Boston Globe: “The Monuments Men is a labored mishmash of tones,” he writes, “half Hogan’s Post-Doctoral Heroes, half Saving Private Rembrandt, and half Ingres’s 11. That’s three halves, so you can see the problem.” Actually that’s not much of a problem for several critics who admire the allusions, intentional or not, to earlier war films. Joe Neumaier in the New York Daily News describes it as “George Clooney’s thinking-man’s version of The Dirty Dozen or The Guns of Navarone.” Neumaier does have reservations about the film, however, concliuding that it “needed more wildness, in the style of the big-screen adventures it evokes.” Michael Phillips in the Chicago Tribune remarks that “Clooney’s attempt to honor unsung real-life heroes while recapturing the ensemble pleasures of some well-remembered Hollywood war pictures, notably The Great Escape and The Guns of Navarone, comes off as a modestly accomplished forgery at best.” But Richard Corliss in Time magazine suggests that Clooney’s effort deserves attention not least of all as a moving reminder that great art and artifacts are worth protecting even at great risk. As documented in the film, the actual art rescue was personally approved by President Franklin Roosevelt. Writes Corliss: “Franklin Roosevelt’s notion of art’s value was more sophisticated than Hitler’s — and Donald Rumsfeld’s. Recall the Defense Secretary’s reaction to the news in April 2003 that the Iraq National Museum, housing priceless artifacts dating to the dawn of civilization 6,000 years ago, had been looted while U.S. forces occupied Baghdad. ‘Freedom’s untidy,’ Rumsfeld said. ‘Stuff happens.'” But while Corliss’s review on the whole is positive, Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times makes a similar point in an altogether negative review. Turan concludes it this way: “The real-life monuments men recovered some 5 million pieces of art, and if this disappointing film calls any kind of attention to that, it will have done at least that much good in the world.”