Monuments Men: Clooney’s Disappointing Film

monuments_men_posterOn paper, all the ingredients are present for The Monuments Men to be a thrilling and entertaining movie: A good, fact-based story of one of the greatest treasure hunts in history, an all-star cast that includes the best actors of their generation (more about it later), and even a relevant social context, as we all are more concious of the past and its heritage.

In reality, however, The Monuments Men is a disappointing picture on any number of levels, beginning with a pedestrian screenplay, co-penned by George Clooney and his producing partner Grant Heslov, and an inexplicably impersonal, haphazard direction from Clooney, which lacks unified vision and sharp perspective for distinguishing between significant and trivial events, important and secondary subplots. (The movie has too many subplots)

End result is a middling, sporadically engaging dramatic thriller, in which some of the parts are decent, but they never cohere into an intelligent or absorbing narrative that is called for by the original material, the book by Robert M. Edsel with Bret Witte. As co-writer and director, Clooney seems unable to find an/or to present the dramatic locus of the tale, not to mention the fact that none of the actors is particularly impressive.

The film stars George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban, Hugh Bonneville, and Cate Blanchett.

Initially, Sony was going to release The Monuments Men in December, in time for awards consideration.  However, my feeling is that the studio tested the picture with audiences and realized that it’s a much better bet to invest its publicity money and savvy marketing in its two other high-profile pictures, American Hustle and Captain Phillips, both of which now nominated for the Best Picture Oscar.

monuments_men_7_clooney_damon_murray_goodmanLikely to be dismissed by most critics, and to suffer from negative word-of-mouth, The Monuments Men should have a short theatrical run upon its release on February 7.  That said, the film is a curio item and as such may be do better in ancillary markets due to the glorious ensemble of actors.

Clooney, quite disappointingly, takes a laid back approach to the story of seven over-the-hill, out-of-shape museum directors, artists, architects, curators, and art historians who went to the front lines of WWII to rescue the world’s artistic masterpieces from Nazi thieves and return them to their rightful owners.

The men were far beyond the biological age to be drafted or to even volunteer into the war effort.  Nonetheless, against great odds, they took on this life-risking adventure, based on their conviction that great and genuine culture would be destroyed by the Nazis.   Singly and jointly, they realized that if they fail, it would mean the loss of numerous irreplaceable art works.

monuments_men_4_damonThe models for Monuments Men are popular Hollywood war-adventure-escape pictures, such as The Great Escape, The Dirty Dozen, and The Guns of Navarone, in all of which a group of diverse men (of different classes and social backgrounds) are recruited to accomplish an (im)possible mission behind enemy lines.  And it’s too bad that Clooney failed to execute a film that approximate those models because they belong to a genre that is all but extinct in contemporary Hollywood.

I have never expected Clooney the dynamic actor, director, producer, or writer to be responsible for a dull, in moments drearily verbose movie, but that’s my overall impression of The Monuments Men, which, in addition to many other shortcomings, is also sentimental.

 

A longer review will be published later.