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George Clooney as the Fogg’s Conservator? See the Lame Trailer for WW II’s “Monuments Men”

Want to see the trailer for “The Monuments Men,” the George Clooney-directed movie (also starring him, produced by him and co-written by him) about the intrepid band of art historians who rescued European masterpieces from destruction by the Nazis?

Now you can!

Clooney improbably assumes the star role of “Frank Stokes,” a character based on World War I veteran George Stout, who was a leader of the World War II Monument Men. In The Rape of Europa, the definitive, exhaustively researched book on this period, author Lynn Nicholas describes Stout as not only chief of conservation at Harvard’s Fogg Art Museum, but also “the country’s greatest expert on the techniques of packing and evacuation.” The new Hollywood treatment is based (and derives its title from) Robert Edsel‘s book (which, I fear, is destined to be reissued with a movie-star cover).

Of course, I’ll have to see the movie for myself (opens Dec. 18), but I cannot imagine the docudrama’s packing the same power as the more somber 2006 “Rape of Europa” documentary film based on Nicholas’ book, which included moving interviews with those still alive when the movie was being filmed. They included Charles Parkhurst, registrar and curator at the National Gallery of Art in Washington (who later became director of the Baltimore Museum of Art and then assistant director and chief curator at the National Gallery); Bernard Taper, journalist and author; and S. Lane Faison, the art historian who became a legendary Williams College professor. (Faison was not a field officer, but worked in Germany with the OSS Art Looting Investigation Unit, which interrogated Nazis about the plunder.)

As some online commenters have already quipped, the trailer makes this Hollywood “action thriller,” as it’s being touted, look like a World War II version of “Oceans Eleven.” It also stars Clooney’s “Oceans” co-star, Matt Damon, as “James Granger,” a character based on James Rorimer, the curator at the Metropolitan Museum who later went on to become its director.

The trailer opens with this Clooney announcing to Damon, “Time to put a team together and do our best to protect buildings, bridges and art before the Nazis destroy everything.” That sounds like a plan!

We’ll just have to suspend disbelief until December. Hey, I thought Clooney, the son of a journalist, did a decent job as Fred Friendly in “Good Night, and Good Luck”!

an ArtsJournal blog