Film Review: THE MONUMENTS MEN (directed by George Clooney)

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by Kevin Bowen on February 6, 2014

in Film


In theory, George Clooney’s The Monuments Men tries to tell the story of the “greatest treasure hunt of all time” – the race by U.S. Army art curators to save European art gems from Nazi looting and destruction. In practice, it becomes a movie about old men in jeeps, asking for directions.


The characters are not the only ones in need of direction. The film takes pains to map the places and over-explain the facts and history, yet the story feels like it has no map or plan. Events are shown but rarely build into full scenes. The wheels seem stuck in summery French hedgerows and the Belgian snow.


As the living avatar of classic Hollywood values, Clooney shows love for old-time war films. The film is jaunty, humorous, dipped in a sappy undertow, with the feel of Hollywood backlots and costumes spruced in central wardrobe. The most old-fashioned Hollywood touch: An Australian movie star plays a French woman (Cate Blanchett) who holds the secrets to missing French works. How unfortunate that there are no French actresses qualified for the role.


The first two-thirds of the picture are not only a mess. They are a mess of a mess. The mess spills through Grant Heslov’s corny script (like the aw-shucks romantic interplay between Blanchett and Matt Damon) and an uncharacteristically bland score by Alexandre Desplat – all military drums and marching whistles. John Phillip Souza would be inspired.


Clooney wants to make World War II fun again, as though the grittier war films of the past 20 years (Saving Private Ryan, Downfall) never happened. Yet this odd story would benefit from those layers of realism (which would transform into surrealism). What’s missing from Monuments Men is darkness. Madness. Mystery. The desperation of a race against time. All the things that might have given this material a sense of fire rather than a sense of fun.


Then just as you think the film is completely cooked, it actually catches a little wind. That happens when The Monuments Men dives underground, into the mines where the Nazis hid their loot and gold. Clooney is a good visualist with a talent for light and dark, and the mines are the perfect setting for it. Likewise, the plot begins pulling in a single direction, with the ensemble acting as a unit. It’s too bad that it’s too late for a rescue mission to succeed.


Monuments-Men-Cate-BlanchettThe Monuments Men
Columbia Pictures, Fox 2000 Pictures,
Smokehouse Pictures Studio Babelsberg
USA, German /
rated PG-13
running time: 1 hour, 58 minutes
in wide release February 7, 2014

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