What surprised me the most about The Monuments Men is how dull it was most of the time. All the ingredients were present to have a fun and intense movie. There was a lot of potential that wasn’t utilized. It’s entertaining in spurts, but went through too many spots that had me bored.
In the end, it’s a decent movie to pass the time and has things going for it, but it just leaves you wanting more from the material. I didn’t want to judge too much when I initially heard the news that the release date had been switched from its award-friendly December to February. That’s usually a negative sign, and it was in this case. Since this was directed by George Clooney and had an A-list cast telling a world War II story, I thought it would have turned out better.
During World War II, Hitler and his generals plunder the best artworks of Western civilization sending millions paintings, statues, and other valuable objects to Germany. While the war is coming to a close with the Allied invasion, the fate of these priceless works of art are in jeopardy. Frank Stokes (George Clooney) is tasked with putting together a team to get Europe’s art back from the Nazis saving them, and returning them to their rightful owners. The group consists of various museum directors and art historians: James Granger (Matt Damon), Richard Campbell (Bill Murray), Walter Garfield (John Goodman), Jean Claude Clermont (Jean Dujardin), Donald Jeffries (Hugh Bonneville), and Preston Savitz (Bob Balaban). The Monuments Men will be able to move through different territories receiving help from other troops. It should be a relatively easy task, but war never is.
The characters were all one note. Some of the actors manged to inject wit and charm into certain scenes, but never got anything from the people they were portraying. The beginning felt rushed. I wanted to know something about each character, or simply little attributes about them before embarking on the mission. Certain people don’t get along, and others work together well, and you never understand why because you don’t know anything about anyone. This caused a lot of the banter to be meaningless. Certain scenes would work because of humorous lines (can remember a few really good ones), but never for the interactions and what they meant. As a minor spoiler, someone dies, and when that happens I didn’t care. They start cramming tons of exposition before he goes trying to force you to feel for him. Then, a big part of the movie is doing what was right by that one guy. You never know who he is or why he matters that much.
Clooney couldn’t seem to make his mind up about what kind of tone he wanted to establish. The Monuments Men wants to take a serious subject and inject it with a light feel – that is no easy task. The switches between comedy and drama were never smooth. Always felt awkward, taking me out of the movie for a second. This group of guys are dressed as soldiers, but they are really art experts. That is a great set up. It is never capitalized on, however. A chance for a real dramatic moment was passed up time and time again. The comedy could be too dry. You still get the occasional chuckle, though. I enjoyed the level of old school value to be found, but it lacked any kind of serious punch.
None of the actors are stretching themselves, but they seems like they’re having a good time, and that comes across in a positive way. Cate Blanchett is the best out of the cast. She actually added something to her character. Still, the role could have been played by anyone in the end. Matt Damon spends most of the time away from the main group, so he’s simply an afterthought more often than not. Goodman, Dujardin, Murray, and Balaban have some funny scenes interacting with each other. As for George Clooney, the issue with him is the same as the rest. You’re watching these actors have a good time, not actual characters.
The Monuments Men isn’t a bad movie, and it’s heart is in the right place. Clooney seems to have little faith his audience knows that, though. The question is brought up whether or not getting the art back is worth putting people’s lives at risk. It’s a valid question, sort of similar to the one raised inSaving Private Ryan about risking everything for one guy. Clooney’s character gives three separate long speeches at different moments in the movie talking about the significance of art and why it is worth dying for. I expected a hefty speech, but three? That was beyond overkill. The point has been made, we don’t need for them to keep elaborating on the subject when we got it the first time. The writing wasn’t the problem, they were actually well written, but the debate keeps getting recycled as the movie is trying too hard to be meaningful. I’ve mentioned lots of bad aspects, the movie is fine overall, but there are too many missed opportunities to count which made me wonder what could have been.