Monday, March 31, 2014
Released theatrically in February
George Clooney's fifth directorial effort, The Monuments Men, squanders both its rich concept (loosely based on the 2010 book The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves And The Greatest Treasure Hunt In History by Robert Edsel) and a fine ensemble cast comprised of Clooney, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, and Hugh Bonneville. The men play the real-life MFAA (Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives) unit made up of arts-loving civilians tasked near the end of World War II with recovering artworks stolen by the Nazis and returning them to their rightful owners. Adding a sense of urgency to the multinational group's mission is Hitler's plan to destroy the art pieces should the Nazis be defeated, in addition to the Russian military's intent to keep all the art they find as compensation for the casualties they've incurred.
The script, written by Clooney and his co-producer Grant Heslov, presents an intriguing central question for the viewer's consideration: are the lives of men worth sacrificing in order to save history's greatest artistic works? Unfortunately, the lofty ideal isn't partnered with a substantial enough execution of almost all of The Monuments Men's other components (one of the exceptions being the film's impressive visuals and period detail). The chemistry between the cast members never seems to fully click, largely because the characters all feel so disappointingly underwritten. Blanchett's Claire Simone character, a crucial ally in the Men's mission, has the foundation to be an interesting figure, but never seems to become fully realized, even for a secondary character (a misguided seduction story between her and Damon's James Granger character doesn't help, either). Attempts at goofy humour repeatedly fall flat, as evidenced during one of the film's surprisingly few lively scenes involving Goodman's and Dujardin's characters, a scene where Granger has to extricate himself from a land mine he's stepped on, the mangled French spoken by Granger, and the unfunny exchanges between the at-odds characters played by Balaban and a predictably deadpan Murray. Many of the moments where the film adopts a more solemn tone (this is war, after all) tend to come up short, too, such as one where Murray's character receives a musical gift from home (the scene felt tainted by its manipulativeness) and another where Clooney's character has a conversation with a captured Nazi senior officer (the scene curiously doesn't pack the dramatic oomph it aspires to).
It's surprising that a true story as unlikely as this one took so long to make it to the big screen. Regrettably, Clooney's plodding tribute to the brave individuals who were inspired by such a noble cause never finds its footing and comes up well short in doing their remarkable exploits cinematic justice.