The new film, The Monuments Men, depicts the efforts a little known team of soldiers whose mission it was to save and protect historically important cultural artifacts and buildings in the European theater during World War II. It’s a very interesting prospect for a movie, but unfortunately the end result is more sleep inducing than a high-school history class.
Suave celebrity, George Clooney, co-wrote, directed and stars in this film that is based on the book, The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History, by Robert Edsel, about the real-life “Monuments Men”, also called the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFAA) program.
Clooney has done a decent job wearing all these filmmaking hats in the past (see The Ides of March), but somehow he’s turned this new picture into a lifeless, dull and stereotypical war movie. The Dirty Dozen for art historians, or Ocean’s WWII, if you like. There is an intriguing story to be told here, it’s just that Clooney seems to be telling it from the standpoint of a bemused draftee who left his heart on the home front.
I’ve seen History Channel documentaries that are more exciting than this film. That said I respect Clooney and his more personal movie projects like this one. I’m certain his heart was in the right place, but his passion just didn’t translate onto the screen in this particular film.
The ensemble cast of The Monuments Menincludes Bill Murray as the team’s architect, Matt Damon as a museum curator, John Goodman as a sculptor, Jean Dujardin as the French guy, Hugh Bonneville as the British guy, Bob Balaban as a mousy theater director and Dimitri Leonidas as the enlisted guy/German translator. All are fish out of water in the military, complete with boot camp training hijinks. I honestly kept expecting Brad Pitt to pop-up in a cameo appearance.
From what I can tell, all of the characters in this movie are composites of the real people involved (who you can see listed at monumentsmen.com, along with other interesting information about the actual MFAA mission.)
Cate Blanchett also stars as a French art curator who is forced to help Hitler’s art thieves plunder Paris. She has an interesting love/hate relationship with Matt Damon’s character that was one of the better sub-plots of the film. There are also a few laughs in the movie, mostly stemming from Bill Murray being Bill Murray.
The Monuments Men is a historically significant tale that is told in a lackluster manner. I found myself wishing Quentin Tarantino had been involved to spice up the dialogue (a la Inglorious Basterds), and in fact there is one scene towards the end where Clooney’s character confronts one of Hitler’s Nazi thugs, and he is desperately attempting to channel Tarantino, but to no avail. In the end this film does not equal the sum of its many talented parts, and that’s a shame.