Toward the end of World War II, American art lover Frank Stokes (George Clooney) realised that precious pieces of work were being gathered or destroyed by the Nazi forces. With permission from the President, he sets about forming a taskforce to recover and return the stolen works of art.
In his career as a director, George Clooney has produced the kooky (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Leatherheads) and the dramatic (Goodnight and Good Luck, The Ides Of March); The Monuments Men tries to fall somewhere in between these two extremes, but struggles to find a voice, even though the story is interesting and, if truth be told, both serious and silly at the same time.
The cast of the film is a veritable who’s who of great actors working today; as well as Clooney himself, the film stars Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, Jean Dujardin, John Goodman and Hugh Bonneville. All of these are actors who are known for both their comedic and dramatic skills, but oddly and sadly, none of them really get the chance to show off either. None of the characters are properly fleshed out, other than a small amount of back-story, and other than some well-intentioned teasing; none of them really get the chance to know one another properly. There is a nice touch in pairing actors who have worked together before – Balaban and Murray, Dujardin and Goodman – but even this doesn’t elevate the film from a travelogue with some good actors in it. There are some funny moments in the film but the sad part is that most of these are in the trailer, and this cast of funny people thrown together in a silly situation – running around Europe trying to find hidden Nazi treasure; sounds like an Indiana Jones film – never quite gets off the ground.
The Monuments Men could have been Clooney’s answer to Inglorious Bastards, by way of O Brother, Where Art Thou? and the cinematography and scenery certainly lends weight to the theory that this is what Clooney was trying to achieve, but by stifling the actors and getting tangled up in technicalities, the film feels doomed before it starts.
The story is an interesting one, and certainly one that needs telling, but there voice over’s and speechifying about the importance of art do nothing for the tone of the film; of course art is important; these characters are risking their lives to save it, there is no need to bash us over the head with the moral of the story. There is tons of scope for comedy, and sending up the Nazi decision to stockpile art, even as they destroy the lands from whence it came, but this is an opportunity missed.
The Monuments Men is an interesting yarn that gets bogged down in it’s own technicalities, and by having it’s cast scattered across Europe. Comedic moments are missed and dramatic ones are overplayed. A true disappointment from director and actor George Clooney, who is usually right on the money in terms of script and tone, The Monuments Men becomes an Indiana Jones film with none of the fun. Still, at least it’s better than Kingdom of the Crystal Skull…