Genre: Action and Adventure, Drama
Director: George Clooney
Cast: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban, Hugh Bonneville, Cate Blanchett
Release Date: February 7, 2014
The men who were sent overseas to protect valuable art from Hitler’s vile grasp at the end of World War II were fighting to preserve “a culture” and “a way of life.” So states officer Frank Stokes (George Clooney), abortion the group’s leader, remedy in the new drama The Monuments Men, find a film that explores that important mission.
The mission itself is an invaluable one. At the time, Hitler— whose thirst for conquest knew few limits— had been accumulating art for the museum he wanted to create in his honor. After overtaking cities and towns, his officers had stolen famous artwork and stored it in anticipation of the museum’s opening. Towards the end of the war though, an international collection of soldiers were sent into the battle zones specifically to recover that work before Hitler and the Nazis could destroy it. It’s a little-told story that could work well on the big screen.
As this film begins, Stokes has been offered the mission and is gathering an electic mix of officers for his team. The group– brought together in a scene reminiscent of Ocean’s 11–includes men like the charming James Granger (Matt Damon), the witty Richard Campbell (Bill Murray), the wry Walter Garfield (John Goodman), and an Englishman named Donald Jeffries (Hugh Bonneville). These characters are all casually introduced but are never fully developed. The actors here are impressive performers but the superficiality of their onscreen personalities undermines their keen acting abilities.
In his fifth feature as a director, Clooney– in what should could been his most serious picture–loses the dramatic prowess that marked previous efforts like Good Night, and Good Luck and The Ides of March, two serious features about serious topics. The Monuments Men should be serious but never explores its subject with the proper tone. Instead, it offers up a few comical bits that are oddly misplaced here. Despite the characters being put into an active war zone and overlooking the fact that several of them don’t survive the ordeal, the story seldom shows the effects of war on the characters. In fact, the war is so sidelined for most of the story that’s it’s easy to forget that it’s taking place nearby. There are a few stumbling scenes of remorse when characters fall but the disjointed picture never fully captures the enormity of their mission or what being in that area felt like.
It doesn’t help that the pacing leaves much to be desired. Even as it opens, the screenwriters don’t seem to know where to begin. The film opens with short scenes in several different locations that never serve a powerful purpose. It’s a ham-handed way to get the story started and the picture never recovers. From a possible romance between the married Granger and a suspicious art historian (Cate Blanchett), to an out-of-place sequence involving a land mine to disastrously dumb scenes depicting Hitler alone in a dark room planning his next move, the movie never works as a cohesive whole and doesn’t even seem to try.
There are elements here that could’ve worked but instead this story is presented as a mishmash of oddly-shaped sequences that seem thrown together at the last minute. An editing team should’ve realized that the flow is terribly designed and that few of the elements that were supposed to work actually do.
The mission of The Monuments Men was a noble one and these heroes deserve cinematic applause for their under-the-radar work. Suffice it to say, they don’t get it here.
Review by: John Hanlon