Movie Review – The Monuments Men (2014)

Director: George Clooney

Stars: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bob Balaban, John Goodman, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray, Hugh Bonneville, Jean Dujardin

Based on a true story, The Monuments Men is about a band of soldiers who go through Europe and try to find and preserve works of art that are being stolen by the Nazis.

There’s some interesting stuff in this film. The question about whether art is worth a man’s life is one that’s ripe for discussion, and also the questions about what art means. Basically they are just objects, yet they are imbued with philosophical or religious or historical significance and they are celebrated as examples of human achievement, lasting long after their creators have faded away. I would have liked to have seen more about how they chose which pieces of art to rescue as there are many pieces of modern art that I don’t think would ever be worth a life. And what was it that gave the art value, was it intrinsic in the piece itself or was it because of the material it was made out of? Would a piece of art still be seen as valuable if it were made out of wood instead of gold?

Unfortunately The Monuments Men only explores these aspects in a rudimentary fashion. And that’s okay I suppose, after all it’s probably not what it set out to do. Really it wants to bring attention to the men who gave their lives to preserve these works of art. That being said, I find it strange that they didn’t make any of the characters memorable or compelling. The film has a good cast, but at no point do you ever feel anything other than ‘Oh look, it’s Matt Damon as a soldier, oh look, it’s Bill Murray as a soldier, oh look, it’s John Goodman as a soldier’. As such the emotional gravitas that the film should have is completely absent. This isn’t helped by a strangely whimsical soundtrack that contrasts sharply with the more tense moments.

There are some cues that sound like they could be from a Looney Tunes cartoon, and tonally the film is at war with itself. The characters aren’t developed at all and there’s so much time spent on them saying, ‘We’re doing something important,’ it gets tiresome. It’s a shame because it feels like the kind of film that should do well, and I’m sure the producers had the best intentions but it seems like they couldn’t decide whether they wanted to do a group heist movie with a bunch of misfits, a fish out of water story with a group of art experts who were thrust onto the front lines of war, or a historical war thriller with a dash of espionage.

The cast clearly had a good time making the film, and this comes through on the screen, but unfortunately it’s not enough. I’m also not sure that it actually pays due respect to the actual Monuments Men because as I understand it that group was made up of hundreds of people, whereas this film portrays them as only a small band of men.

There are forlorn attempts to create an antagonist and the emotional tension doesn’t have as much impact as it should. Whatever The Monuments Men aimed to do, it failed at.

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