Been a few weeks since something came out I got to see, so thats the real reason for the delay here. This week is one of two movies for review, the other has more bite to it I hope. The Monuments Men tells a story I’ve not seen in film and certainly wasn’t told about in history class. It has quite a few things going for it in that regard. Telling a story from World War II that hasn’t before is actually quite hard these days. Let’s get into it shall we?
The story is adapted from a book by Robert Edsel titled “The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History”. It tells the story of the MFAA, Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives program, a sadly little known unit established in 1943 to protect the cultural property in war areas during World War II. The screen play was adapted by Clooney himself with character actor and sometimes collaborator Grant Heslov (True Lies, Good Night and Good Luck, Ides of March). The movie focuses on one small group of the department and their attempt to rescue some priceless and personal artifacts from the Nazi’s as the war comes to an end. They face resistance from Nazi’s, Russians, and even their own people as they try to protect something the military itself cared little about during the war. Is a piece of art worth a mans life?
Clooney also directs this film, which combined with the script leaves most of the blame on him where the film goes wrong. Which, sadly, is quite a few places. One of the key functions of story is a narrative arc, with a a rise and fall in events that drives the characters forward through some form of conflict. The movie fails in that basic element of story. Yes, events happen. Yes, there are beats of cliche with moments of sadness or levity, but there is really no dramatic tension.
I wish I could say that there was, but the film just delivers a series of moments losely connected to each other by the plot of trying to find pieces of lot art. Few of the moments have any real weight to them and the moments that do are glossed over in such a hollow way that it loses the intensity it should have. Some are told out a strong dramatic order so that when you should be going “Oh damn…” you are simply shaking your head sadly. Even the few deaths that occur among the members of the cast come across as cliche and something you’ve seen a dozen times before and because of that become little more than a beat that has no meaning.
It’s unfortunate that as the movie pulls together an amazing cast of comedic talent that could have delivered some of the most dramatic performances of their careers. John Goodman, Bill Murray are wasted. Clooney’s own sense of timing seems off as he was focused three ways on script, acting and directing. The only high point is the interactions between Blanchett and Damon. Blanchetts character actually has the most depth of any of them, with the only arc worth a damn.
All of that said, the movie has some very pretty moments and some beautiful art. Art that would have been lost if not for the real men and women of the MFAA. The statues, the paintings, the lives displayed and lost. For all its flaws, of which there are many, the movie does remind us of a dark time in history that is quickly losing its weight in our modern world.
The Monuments Men is an ok film that tells a story that needed to be told; but as a film it nearly fails. It wants to tell a story bigger than its capable and in that the weaknesses become apparent.
If you were interested in seeing it, its worth a matinee pass at best. The art alone and the history is worth it.
Otherwise, give this one a pass this weekend and save your money for Valentines day, or some other day where you might need money.
This should be a busy week for reviews, so sit tight folks!!