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The Monuments Men

The-Monuments-Men-1Directed by George Clooney
Starring George Clooney, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, John Goodman, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban

During Word War II, the men of the Monuments, Fine Arts And Archives Program went haring around the European Theatre, trying to prevent great arts and antiquities from being looted or destroyed by the retreating Nazis. There’s surely a good movie to be made out of that intriguing premise. Unfortunately, it’s not the one that director, co-writer and star, George Clooney, has made.

Based on the book of the same name by Robert M. Edsel, the film sees Clooney as Lieutenant Frank Stokes (based on the historical George Stout – all the names have been changed for no readily apparent reason), who organises a team of eccentric arts experts (Matt Damon, John Goodman, Bill Murray, et al) with the remit of protecting Europe’s cultural treasures from the war (it’s not just Nazi thieves they have to worry about, but the tendency of artillery of any stripe to be fairly indiscriminate).

And that, as far as story goes, is more or less that. While there’s a loose narrative spine regarding the hunt for the Ghent Altarpiece and Michelangelo’s Madonna And Child, there’s certainly no sense of momentum or stakes, no matter how many speeches Clooney makes about the importance of art.

It’s a shame, because there’s a lot of top notch talent involved here and they’re largely the reason The Monuments Men is merely bad rather than completely unwatchable. While John Goodman isn’t given a whole lot to do, his presence is always welcome and Bill Murray and Bob Balaban offer the most value as a pair of bickering rivals who come to respect each other over the course of the film. Conversely, the relationship between James Granger (Matt Damon) and Claire (Cate Blanchett) a French resistance operator, never really lands.

In fact, there seems to be a whole subplot involving Granger’s heart condition that seems to have been elided away during post production – and that’s surely not the only thing that was jettisoned. The resulting film judders along in a stop-start fashion, not so much episodic as almost anecdotal. Couple that with some serious tonal problems – Clooney seems to be trying to make a dextrous caper flick, a gritty war film, a Holocaust indictment and a treatise on the importance of art all at the same time – and you’ve got a film that almost completely lacks a sense of identity.

It feels mean to give The Monuments Men a low mark. There’s nothing but goodwill and honest intentions behind it, but the resultant work is just a half-baked mess. If you’re feeling charitable, it’s not the worst way to kill a couple of hours, but it’s certainly not worth going out of your way to see. A misfire.



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