I first got interested in seeing The Monuments Men when it was planned for a late 2013 release, but for reasons that were at the time unclear, it got moved up to spring 2014. And now that I’ve seen it, it makes a lot more sense. If I’d seen it when it was in competition with other late year releases like Inside Llewyn Davis, 12 Years a Slave or even Saving Mr. Banks, I’d probably be a little less welcoming to it. But, when it’s February and the only new movie I’ve seen thus far is I, Frankenstein…hell, I’ll take it.
The plot is based very loosely on the real life story of The Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Program, an allied group of soldiers assigned to protect historic, artistic and culturally significant monuments from damage during World War II. George Clooney has both the lead and the director’s chair as Frank Stokes, the leader of the group. While the actual Monuments Men were primarily concerned with helping plan bombing attacks to avoid damage to culturally relevant buildings, the movie is (perhaps understandably) a little more interested in a small ragtag group of men assigned to steal and return missing art, consisting of John Goodman, Matt Damon, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray, Jean Dujardin and Hugh Bonneville. Think Oceans’s 11 by way of The Dirty Dozen and you’re most of the way there.
As you can guess about it from the plot description, the cast is probably the best thing about it, but they’re also underutilized. John Goodman and Jean Dujardin probably get the most work and both of them do fine. Matt Damon and George Clooney both get to give a solid performances that fit right in their respective wheel houses. The drags are, weirdly enough Murray and Balaban, who are both fine actors. But I think that has less to do with their performances or their characters and more to do with their screen time; The necessity of splitting the group up means they have to split screen time and Murray and Balaban wind up getting the short stick.
The direction is fine, both the screenplay and the presentation evoking the old Hollywood ‘Guys on a mission’ style of World War II movies than any of the more recent kind of war movie. The scenes your expecting (humanizing the enemy, clashing with superiors, message from home) are all well placed and well put together, even if they are exactly what you’re expecting. It also has a couple more unique scenes, like Murray and Balaban quietly interrogating a man in front of his (non-English speaking) family that wind up being the more memorable scenes.
It’s not a movie without it’s issues (some pretty big issues, frankly). The biggest one is structure; The movie consists primarily of little disconnected segments, which makes having a narrative through-line a little difficult. It’s entertaining enough for the most part to overcome this, but it begins to lose steam heavily towards the 3rd act, when it becomes a series of ‘we found the thing, woo, moving on’ sequences, and the attempts to have an exciting climax fall completely flat.
Trying to put a face on the enemy was a nice attempt, but since he disappears after the first act it doesn’t entirely work. And the character who gets the short end of the stick, even more than Murray and Balaban, is Cate Blanchett’s. She’s got an interesting character, but it feels like her subplot wound up mostly on the cutting room floor, which is a shame cause she probably could have held up a solid chunk of the movie herself. If there’s a director’s cut on DVD, it’ll probably be worth watching, if it reinserts cut scenes involving her or Murray/Balaban.
Look, it’s February which is traditionally a wasteland of movies; I’ve seen all the major Oscar contenders and The Grand Budapest Hotel is still a few weeks off. The Monuments Men is not a great movie, it’s barely a good one, but given the time of year, it’s probably worth seeing, even if it’s not as good as it feels like it should be. If you miss it, you might catch it on DVD or on cable and probably like it a lot. But if you’re looking for something to see, you could probably do a lot worse than The Monuments Men.
Elessar is a 24 year old Alaskan born cinephile and if you don’t think George Clooney is an incredibly sexy man, you’re lying.
– good cast
– solid screenplay and direction
– weak structure
– certain actors/subplots are under utilized