Interesting history story that is given the flat, sketchy treatment. The Monuments Men stifles its characters from having much personality, and therefore, the actors themselves are dulled. I’m surprised somebody who is such a film lover as George Clooney himself would direct the film with such schmaltzy earnestness – it has none of the danger of your usual World War II movie. The goal, of course, is to recover the art that Adolph Hitler plundered across Europe and was to be found in hidden salt mines.
Clooney cast himself as Frank Stokes, an art historian and Army veteran, with earnestness plastered on his forehead. Stokes convinces several artists, architects and museum curators to conduct a rescue job of stolen art across Europe. The members of the Allied forces are played, quite listlessly, by Matt Damon, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban, Hugh Bonneville and Bill Murray. I was thinking in particular that in the first 45-minutes, Murray only has a few lines. More than anybody, I was looking forward to seeing him bring his droll and clumsy persona to a war picture and we barely hear or see anything of him.
If you’re looking for the guy with the most lines of dialogue, it’s Damon, who hooks up with Cate Blanchett, playing a French curator in occupied France who has some records of missing art. I don’t know if I wanted heat or just flirtatious bantering between them, but it’s all such a bashful interplay. On the field, the boys are occasionally shot at. And the most predictable actors bite the bullet. Can you guess who?
Much of the film is dull, even when the camera glosses over priceless art work. Typically, we watch one-on-one conversations that are so static that they evaporate by the time we reach the next scene. But at least the last third has some forward momentum, with the Americans hustling fast to secure art pieces before the allied Russians come in and make claims. That the film was shot partially on Germany soil helps the film, if the characters aren’t interesting, at least there are backdrops to look at.
It’s not as if Clooney and his co-writer Grant Heslov are short on talent. I suppose they wanted to do an old-fashioned WWII adventure piece, a throwback to the 1960’s (“The Train” was similar, but more exciting). But their film lacks the tension, the authentic immediacy, the high stakes jeopardy that’s necessary to keep us involved. “The Monuments Men” has the best trailer of the new year, which packages everything of its compelling backstory with rapid editing and promise of a thumping A-list cast, that all you might need is to re-watch that because it’s certainly doesn’t deliver in the actual film.
112 Minutes. Rated PG-13.
HISTORICAL DRAMA / WWII / LAZY AFTERNOON VIEWING
Film Cousins: “The Guns of Navarone” (1961); “The Train” (1964); “The Battle of the Bulge” (1965); “The Rape of Europa” (2006).