THE MONUMENTS MEN Movie Review: The OCEANS 12 of World War II
The Monuments Men certainly tries to capture that old school World War II film feel, with harsh lighting, an over-the-top score and very little in the way of gravitas. Clooney, who after The Good German, Good Night, and Good Luck, and Leatherheads, clearly has affection for America’s yesteryear. He just can’t always seem to put it all together. Monuments is all over the place. After a brief scene showing the potential zing-fest between Clooney and Damon, Damon’s character is shipped off to Paris for a mostly pointless subplot involving Cate Blanchett’s character. The same goes for every other character; just when things may get interesting, each of them goes their separate ways in search of stolen art.
The Monuments Men should have been a classic World War II adventure. Based on a true story and including a stellar cast featuring George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Cate Blanchett, Jean Dujardin and Hugh Bonneville, the movie carried such prestige it was originally slated for a December release and an awards push. Then people saw the film.
Clooney, who also directs, leads a group of art scholars into Europe circa World War II to find all of the art Hitler is stealing. Frank Stokes (Clooney) and James Granger (Damon) lead the ragtag bunch, known as the Monuments Men, into enemy territory to find the stolen pieces of art and return each piece to its rightful owner. It’s like Ocean’s Dirty Dozen. So what happened?
Clooney and co-writer/producer Grant Heslov seem like they couldn’t come up with enough material to fill 120 minutes, so they decided to shoot a bunch of little character moments that by themselves are pleasant enough, but add absolutely nothing to the film as a whole. It doesn’t help matters that there really is no central plot, a sign the filmmakers had no idea what kind of war film they wanted to make. Did they want to look at the destructive nature of war and how preserving culture is essential to everything post-war? Sure. What about the idea that art is life, and as such is worth dying for? Yeah, a little of that. Oh! Why not make a fun, breezy adventure set amidst the horrors of World War II, humming right along without a care in the world, even when characters die? We can do that. The Monuments Men is nothing more than a bunch of scenes cut together in the hopes a singular narrative emerges, yet it never does.
The biggest crime is there’s a fantastic film lurking in The Monuments Men, if only Clooney would allow it. While the Monuments Men are trying to save all of these works of art from the Nazis, on the other end of Europe, Russia is tearing through the continent, claiming the artwork as reciprocity for their losses. What could have been a hectic chase film between the two winds up little more than a detour.
George Clooney isn’t a bad director. He’s not a great director, either. He’ll never elevate mediocre material, and he’ll never screw up solid material. The man is literally only as good as his screenplay. When that screenplay is as messy as The Monuments Men, he winds up making something more akin to Leatherheads than Good Night, and Good Luck. There’s all sorts of heart in the film, but little else worth bothering with.