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The Art of War

Four words: a highbrow “Dirty Dozen.” That could have been the elevator pitch for George Clooney’s “The Monuments Men,” which debuts on February 7. Like the 1967 Lee Marvin classic, the new movie follows a ragtag bunch of World War II commandos on a top-secret mission. But in this case, the unlikely heroes aren’t badass convicts — they’re museum curators and artists, aesthetes charged with retrieving invaluable artworks stolen by the Nazis. Although the film has been fictionalized, it’s based on the Allied forces’ Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives program, established in 1943. In fact, the real Monuments Men (and women) rescued literally millions of paintings, sculptures and other cultural artifacts. Given their expertise, they tended to be older than most soldiers, and that lends credibility to the casting of an over-40 all-star team led by Matt Damon (43), Bill Murray (63), John Goodman (61) and Clooney himself (52). One catch: The movie is billed as a comedy-drama, which can mean the worst of both worlds. Still, if nothing else, it will draw attention to a fascinating and relatively neglected bit of history. For more on that, go to this website. — John Birmingham