On the webpage for George Clooney’s movie The Monuments Men, under the tab for story, we find:
Based on the true story of the greatest treasure hunt in history, The Monuments Men is an action-thriller focusing on an unlikely World War II platoon, tasked by FDR with going into Germany to rescue artistic masterpieces from Nazi thieves and returning them to their rightful owners. It would be an impossible mission: with the art trapped behind enemy lines, and with the German army under orders to destroy everything as the Reich fell, how could these guys – seven museum directors, curators, and art historians, all more familiar with Michelangelo than the M-1 – possibly hope to succeed? But as the Monuments Men, as they were called, found themselves in a race against time to avoid the destruction of 1000 years of culture, they would risk their lives to protect and defend mankind’s greatest achievements.
I’ve no problem with the above description aside from the obvious stretch to consider or label this film an action thriller.
The Monuments Men is film in which George Clooney is basically asking us to consider the question: Does Art Matter?
He’ll ask you to consider this multiple times as we hear this either as part of a dialogue or as narration. Of course Art matters. Clooney even takes the trouble to answer this question for us as well:
We’ve been tasked with finding and protecting over 5 million pieces of stolen art work.
Yes, the Nazis stole the art, photographed it, and Hitler decided what he wanted (for his planned Führer Museum) and the rest was sold off to collectors to fund the war. Or it was destroyed outright.
You can wipe out an entire generation, you can burn their homes to the ground, but somehow they’ll still find their way back. But if you destroy their history, you destroy their achievements. It’s as if they never existed.That’s what Hitler wants, and is exactly what we are fighting for.
But Clooney and company numbered just seven men. And they did not enter the war until 1944.
While we must and will this war, we should also remember the high price that will be paid, if the very foundation of modern society is destroyed.
Noble sentiment of course. But millions paid with their lives
They tell us, who cares about art. But they’re wrong. It is the exact reason we are fighting, for a culture, for a way of life.
Again, conceptually, this is a fine way to think. Like I said above, this is a fine story. The film itself is based on a true story. But the film, despite a stellar cast, is far less than we had hoped for. It disappoints on many levels.
The first and most important failure is that we know nothing about these men. The group included an art historian, a sculptor, an art collector, a fine art designer, and a few other experts. But Clooney and his co-script writer Grant Heslov, working from the 2010 book by Robert Edsel, have not filled in any depth to the characters. We should care about them, and we applaud their efforts – but applauding their efforts is not the same as caring for them.
The film has a few ‘action’ sequences – but they are too few, too brief, and very far from exciting. A single teenage boy sniper, an ambush, an explosion or two. Two of the Monument Men were killed, but it’s not as if you’d notice, or as I just said – care. Other than that, these guys barely even got their uniforms dirty.
The drama and comedy are ill-matched and the film succeeds in neither case. With guys like George Goodman, Bob Balaban, and Bill Murray on hand , you’d expect a few funny moments. I think I laughed out loud only twice. But if I’m not going to laugh, then make the drama have some feel, or energy to it.
Clooney let’s us down badly in that regard. I think the History Channel could have done a far better job with this story – and with unknown actors.
There’s only one woman in the cast with a role of consequence – Cate Blanchett, as the French art curator who assisted in the office, in Paris, where the Nazi’s kept their art records. After being approached by Granger, she begins as being skeptical of Matt Damon’s character. Basically she thinks she’s being asked to help steal the stolen art. Meaning she thinks Damon’s Granger is going to keep the art and bring it back to America.
This wasn’t the case. Towards the end of the film, Clooney tacks on a romantic entreaty by Blanchett’s Claire Simone by asking Granger to her apartment for dinner and possibly he could stay over. This seems quite forced, as if it was an after thought.
The reality of that was that Clooney was just giving us something he thought we needed , the old romantic element, but clearly we didn’t.
Jean Dujardin and Hugh Bonneville are members of the team as well. The Frenchman because he would know France better than the Americans, and the Englishman, because the Monuments Men would do their basic training in the UK. While these two gentlemen performed amiably – the roles had no depth to them. Certainly, there might have been another reason – the presence of Dujardin and Bonneville would help sell tickets in Europe.
Later, we get one of the two most pointed scenes of the whole film when Cate Blanchett and Matt Damon are looking at some of the recovered art treasures we hear this:
Damon [as James Granger – holding up a painting]: What is all this?
Blanchett [as Claire Simone]: People’s lives…
The other was when Clooney and his men find themselves deep in bowels one of the mines where the stolen art was stashed. They find rooms of furniture stacked as high as the ceiling, clothes, gold bullion bars, and then barrels of small pieces of gold. These were the gold fillings taken from the teeth of the victims.
At least Clooney let this go with just the one line – those are gold fillings from teeth – followed by silence.
I guess we now know why this film was pushed back from the original plan to open just ahead of Christmas. It simply wasn’t good enough.
This wasn’t a bad film, and it wasn’t terrible. But Clooney played it safe, took no chances, and has delivered a very bland movie. I’ll not recommend this film. Wait for it to show up in your Red Box machines, or see it on Netflix. I think the John Frankenheimer 1964 film, The Train, a film about a Nazi colonel who loads up a train with stolen art, with Burt Lancaster and Paul Scofield, was a superior film. In fact The Monuments Men pales in comparison. This one is worthy of just a three-point zero out of five rating. And that’s being quite generous.