In The Monuments Men, George Clooney leads an elite team in a quest to save the most prized art in Europe, is this a masterpiece or was the script scribbled in crayon?
There are no shortage of movies made about the Second World War, if you were to add up the time spent depicting the war in movies, video games and tv shows then you’d probably be left with a figure that’s longer than the war itself. That being said, there are still seemingly countless stories from that time that remain untold. This particular entry highlights the efforts of a real group, the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program, that was made up of the types of men depicted here, who risked- and in some cases gave- their lives to preserve the cultural heritage all the places the Nazis chose to plunder.
It is a shame that this film fails to capture the gravity of the event being covered. Clooney –who stars and directs- makes the mistake of telling the audience about the events instead of actually showing them. We hear about what art was recovered and where it happened far more than we see the men actually going to those places and finding it. Instead the audience is met with all too many impassioned speeches about how important all of this is. What these men accomplished was very important as they saved many historic art pieces and artefacts but Clooney fails to portray any of the characters in a heroic light.
The cast assembled for this adventure is impressive on its own, including such heavyweights as Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Bob Balaban, Jean Dujardin and Cate Blanchett – as well as Clooney himself. Unfortunately they are wasted for the most part; the narrative is bereft of almost all memorable interactions, although a particular high point is Matt Damon’s James Granger’s unfortunate predicament when he finds himself standing on an unexploded mind as well as his broken French. Beyond that the cast aren’t given enough to do and their individual strengths aren’t well utilised. More comic camaraderie could have gone some way to saving this movie.
The story itself is patchy and altogether boring, presenting itself about as dryly as a high school history textbook. The film cuts from Clooney’s Frank Stokes enthusiastically proclaiming that he plans to assemble a team right to the point where that team is already assembled. Aside from a scene with Matt Damon there’s next to no time spent on recruiting this platoon, unfortunate as this would have provided ample opportunities for comedy. Similarly the story cuts from a brief basic training sequence to getting off the boat in Normandy. More time could definitely have been spent on setting up the characters and plot to allow the audience to become more invested in what was going on.
All in all The Monuments Men is a disjointed patchwork of disparate ideas that aren’t blended together in any meaningful way. The cast all do well with what material they’re given but the actors are poorly utilised and the story ultimately has no weight to it, despite the historical significance of the events depicted. With better developed characters and a tighter script this could have been among the Second World War classics but unfortunately all it succeeds in doing is being utterly forgettable.