The Monuments Men (2014)

Directed by George Clooney
Written by George Clooney & Grant Heslov

Art can mean so many different things to so many different people. It stands on its own in each individual’s mind. Paintings, sculptures, buildings, literature, film and television, music; all are valid art forms, but depending on the subject, the merits of each can vary greatly, as can the satisfaction of the artistic expression, or of the artistic experience of interacting with art. But much of world culture is built on the very foundation of art as the human experience, the human condition. It captures history, politics, social movements, love, anger, commitment. Without it, we could very well lose our existence, for without our history what are we, and whither shall we go?

The Monuments Men is based on the true story of a group of art scholars during World War II, tasked with saving the priceless art of Europe as its cities and museums were laid waste as part of the vast battleground of the Nazi regime. Led by Frank Stokes (Clooney), the team tours Europe, hoping to stop the Nazi theft of art, while pursing leads to find where Hitler has hid the thousands of paintings and sculptures the Germans have already stolen. The team (John Goodman, Matt Damon, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray and Hugh Bonneville) risk their lives in the name of country and artist. With the help of a Frenchwoman (Cate Blanchett), the Monuments Men, unified with their allied soldiers, wage a different kind of war against the Nazi’s in the name of saving mankind.

George Clooney certainly seems to have lost something along the way while making this film. It comes across as half-baked, lacking in execution and not story, or heart, or sentiment, for the film excels at those. However, those moments that do work are merely sprinkled within a broken narrative with very little consistency to make any of the moments effective within the construct of the film. Clooney seems to have lacked the vision to bring all his ideas together, resulting in a film that is a tonal roller coaster ride, weaving its way from sentiment to war zone to even a handful of misplaced comedic scenes. The film is edited together, but never truly congeals into the type of film these men truly deserve. Clooney and teammate Grant Heslov have a good base, The Monuments Men, which should afford itself to an entertaining film.

The film, at times, also comes across as far too preachy, featuring moments of Clooney’s character, Stokes, literally preaching to his men about the importance of their mission, and its historical significance. This type of monologue/voice over is neither deep or meaningful. In fact it comes across as downright lazy. The patchwork does feature its good squares too, however. Small moments like the one Bill Murray expresses when he is reminded of home, or the thrill of cornering a former SS officer hoarding stolen art. But amidst the greater narrative, these moments prove fleeting, and only cause the film even more imbalance in the long run.

The Monuments Men served an important purpose in the movement against Nazi Germany. The preservation of history, and notably art, is a noble cause, and we should forever be indebted to these brave men in addition to the thousands who fought at arms to defend freedom in the world. But Clooney’s film lacks the same verve, dedication and passion that a retelling of this tale truly deserves. The Monuments Men is harmless, and perhaps that is its greatest fault, but that merely means a steady rotation in the Sunday afternoon TBS lineup. It is none too surprising that the studios pushed this film back from an awards season release. It’s quite hard to celebrate a film that isn’t even sure what it wants to be.

**1/2 – Average

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