I saw The Monuments Men on AMC recently, which sounds about right. I grew up watching war movies on TV, and no I’m not British. Upon it’s theatrical release, the film critics were none too kind. No one seemed to hate it, but nobody loved it either.
On paper, The Monuments Men seems like a slam dunk. But so did my NCAA Tournament bracket. At least I had Yale making it out of the first round. Anyway… The Monuments Men stars, and was directed by George Clooney. He also co-wrote the script with Grant Heslov. The film has an all star cast that includes: Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Hugh Bonneville, Jean Dujardin, and Bob Balaban. So, where did it all go wrong?
It’s not like the most recent Fantastic Four movie, where there is a lot of blame to be shared. If I were to take a wild guess, I would say it started with the script, then carried over to the tone meeting. That’s provided there was such a meeting. The Monuments Men wasn’t all over the place as much as it never found its groove. There are some good scenes, but that doesn’t always add up to a good movie.
Inglourious Basterds has some memorable scenes, such as the farmhouse, and the beer hall, but the whole film is strong from start to finish. I know it’s not fair to compare The Monuments Men to a Quentin Tarantino film, but sometimes it felt like that is what Clooney was aiming for. I’ll give you a couple of examples.
In one scene, Balaban and Murray visit a German family, and right off the bat, Balaban smells something fishy. He plays it so cool, then bam! He sets the hook. It’s a good scene, but in a better film it would have popped.
The same goes for the scene where Clooney is interogating an a German officer. It’s just two guys sitting across a table from each other. When the German won’t give up the information, Clooney tells him about his plans after the war, and what will happen to those who ran concentration camps. If you know your history, you know the outcome. It’s a great idea, but it lacks any weight.
The Monuments Men sometimes tries to be a traditional WWII movie as well. Goodman and Dujardin have a couple of scenes that wouldn’t have been out of place in any number of war films from the 1960s. That’s kind of the problem–they don’t feel fresh.
Then there is the scene where Damon realizes that he has stepped on a land mine. I figured that if he hasn’t died in any of his many war films up to this point, he wasn’t about to start. There are deaths in the movie, but I wasn’t as invested as I should have been in any of the characters, because they were mostly underdeveloped.
The Monuments Men is based on a true story, and is an interesting idea for a film, but it is kind of hard to pull off. There are those who would say what is the big deal with rescuing art, no matter how priceless it is, compared to all the lives that were lost? In a “men on a mission” movie, the audience must care about the mission, and/or the guys trying to pull it off, but I kind of didn’t. And that’s a shame. I really wanted to love this movie.