The Monuments Men (2014) Directed by George Clooney. Starring: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray. IMDB says: “An unlikely World War II platoon are tasked to rescue art masterpieces from Nazi thieves and return them to their owners.”
The Monuments Men is the first film I’ve seen in theatres in 2014; and it’s a good start to the year. While the film won’t blow you away, it’s a solid effort from George Clooney (who co-wrote, directed, and starred in the film) filled with expectedly good performances from Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, and Bob Balaban. The film, based on a true story, is about a World War II unit tasked with rescuing art masterpieces that have been stolen by Nazi forces. Reading the synopsis and watching the trailers, I wasn’t sold. Yeah, I get why it’s so important, but I wasn’t sold on it. That’s one of the problems of the film. A good portion of the dialogue are these characters trying to sell their cause, but no one is buying, not even me. They even try and hook you through character deaths and an emotional cheap shot or two, but even those fall flat. Though I will admit, the package Bill Murray receives from home and the scene that follows it had me in tears. DAMN YOU, MUSIC OF JUDY GARLAND! Anyway, the film also falls short when introducing two extra subplots that didn’t feel necessary. One is a “love story” subplot between Damon and Blanchett that feels forced, and another is the idea that the Russians are on a similar mission, but rather than preserve the art, they’re taking it as reparations for the war. I guess? That whole subplot felt weak and at times slowed the pace of the film.
World War II is mainly used as a back drop in the film, but at times it comes to the forefront. There is talk of the Nazi Concentration Camps, though we never see them. There are subtle location references and Hitler references, but it never throws you into the action. The locations and sets of the film are fantastic and do a great job of replicating the look and feel of the war over in Europe. The score, by Alexander Desplat feels like a throwback to the old war films of the 50s and 60s but never really adds or subtracts from the film. One thing the film succeeded in doing was piquing my interest in the actual Monuments Men and hearing/finding the real story behind the film. (I’ve already DVRed documentaries on the History Channel)
Overall, the film is fun with jokes peppered throughout, but it never really takes you on that emotional journey through World War II in an attempt to “steal back” artistic masterpieces. You’re more than welcome to see it in theatres, but you’re not missing much if you wait for the rental.
Monuments Men is a difficult film to describe. Let me start with my expectations for this film. When I first saw the trailer I was pretty excited. The premise is original, the cast amazing, and George Clooney is the director, what could go wrong? The more of the teasers I saw the less excited I became. The premise started to feel cheesy, the acting overdone, and the narrative lacking. And then I watched the film.
The biggest disappointment for me was the lack of insightful exposition and character development. We are introduced to these characters charged with saving the culture and art of a continent and we never learn more than cursory details about them. These were all real men who had real skills and experiences and the audience learns barely more than their occupation. Of all the characters we are introduced to, we only really get an inside look at one of them and even that feels forced for a plot device. For me, to do a film about saving art during WWII is a bit silly, unless it goes beyond that. The film could have made more of a point about the horrors of war or how little folks care about their history. Instead, the film takes a series of true events and prevents them in a very accurate and organized way but with little story telling.
The cast is impressive and the parts played well. To me, no actor/ess stood above the rest and none held the story back. Honestly, after the first few minutes you almost forget how big these names are. The inadequacies of the plot drown out almost any positives this film has. The fact that the release was held up for two months because post-production was delayed trying to figure out how to be humorous without being offensive should say something.
The actual production of the film seems well done, the scripting isn’t hateful and other than what I described above, there isn’t a ton to be unhappy about. However, there isn’t much to get excited about either. Adding to that, it doesn’t come across as a film that would be particularly rewatchable or fun to see in a group setting. For my money, this is one to catch on HBO or Netflix. Bottom line, this is a ho-hum film and is just too thin to be truly enjoyable.