Culture by definition is the beliefs, customs, arts, etc., of a particular society, group, place, or time. It’s how we define who we are and how we will be remembered. The question the new George Clooney directed  film The Monuments Men poses is a morally complex one. How important is your culture to you? Are the priceless pieces of artwork that inhabit the museums across the world and define our distinct ways of life worth dying for? After all, they are just canvases with paint on them as opposed to a human life.

The Monuments Men takes place in the twilight of World War II with the Nazis and Hitler in full panic mode. Hitler plans to destroy all the classic artwork that the S.S. stole during the Third Reich’s pillage of Europe. A group of soldiers with backgrounds in the arts are sent to Germany to find and protect these artifacts before they are destroyed or acquired by the invading Russians.

Considering the true story subject matter and the A-List cast, you would think the The Monuments Men would be a mighty awards contender and would not live in the Dead Zone of movies. George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray and John Goodman are four fine actors, but their characters are given little time to develop in The Monuments Men. The actual missions of The Monuments Men are quite vague. The plan in the film is to obtain a certain statue or painting, bring it back to its rightful owner and  try not to get killed while doing it. You would think a film about WWII history would want to pursue more depth in their storyline, but director Clooney goes with a simple A to B to C plot right out of a made for TV movie.

Too many questions are left on the table in The Monuments Men. Why were some of these pieces considered to be so important? What would compel a soldier to risk his life for a self-portrait of an artist who died 500 years ago? The Monuments Men is an interesting lesson in historical culture, but the underutilized cast and made for TV feel prevents The Monuments Men from being a special film. I also believe most sane people wouldn’t give their lives for the Mona Lisa, so it’s hard to get behind the group’s intentions as cultural heroes.

Overall, I give The Monuments Men 2.5 out of 4 stars.

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