“The Monuments Men” first popped on people’s radar when George Clooney announced that the film would not remain in Academy Award contention. According to Clooney and the studio, filming went into overtime and reshoots were needed, causing the studio to abandon the initial December release date and forgo any last minute Academy screening.
I wanted to believe that this was the case as I was really hoping “The Monuments Men” would be as good as the early Oscar buzz intimated. Sadly, having now seen “The Monuments Men” I can report that it is far from an Oscar contender. Don’t be mistaken, the film is not bad. Rather, it’s just not an Academy Award level movie despite the Academy Award level talents of Mr. Clooney and co-stars Matt Damon, Jean Dujardin, John Goodman and future Oscar winner (wishful thinking) Bill Murray.
Literal Defense of the Arts
“The Monuments Men” tells the mostly true story of Art Historians, Architects and Scholars, drafted into the fight to save Europe’s great historic treasures in the wake of World War 2. At the time their mission began Adolph Hitler had begun stealing art from collectors across the continent for the purpose of hanging in his new Fuhrer Museum. As the film progresses however, and Hitler’s Germany begins to fall it becomes a race against time to stop Hitler from destroying the treasures he stole.
There is perhaps a great movie to be made of this material but “The Monuments Men” is not that movie. Now, I understand that the preceding line implies “The Monuments Men” isn’t a very good movie but in fact it’s a rather pleasant film with a minor sense of humor and a deep respect for the mission undertaken by the real life ‘Monuments Men.’ Unfortunately, the film isn’t as interesting as the idea of the film. The editing is sloppy, at times muddling the timeline of the film and the ending is jarringly abrupt following as it does a scene of terrific suspense before slamming headlong into a happy ending.
The Casting is the Film’s Undoing
The casting of “The Monuments Men” may be the films biggest challenge and failure. The dream team casting of Clooney, Damon, Dujardin, Goodman and Murray created expectations that the film simply could not match. There is a strong corollary to an NBA All Star team. Yes, you have the greatest players in the game on the court together but no REAL game is being played.
The casting of “The Monuments Men” creates an expectation of greatness that the film simply cannot match. Casting Goodman and Murray implies good humor with an edge of poignancy. Casting Clooney and Damon in a big ensemble evokes the ‘Ocean’s’ movies and a sense of funny camaraderie. Unfortunately, “The Monuments Men” is never played for laughs even as the cast could get those laughs and still pay respect to the danger of a World War 2 story.
Bloodless and Professional
Instead of the movie we think we should get, a poignant comedy about the literal defense of art and culture, we get a dutiful drama that tells a worthy story of heroism without much flavor or insight. The film is respectful to a fault and avoids the humor these actors could create in an effort to remain respectful of the war and the mission. This leaves a rather bloodless, professional effort that is difficult to dismiss as bad but certainly not worthy of a full critical recommendation.