“Damon, Murray, Blanchett, and Goodman are in? Well, then, our work here is done.” It seems more than likely that sentence or a variation thereof was uttered during the early stages of The Monuments Men, a dreary and largely uninteresting film about events that shouldn’t be dreary and uninteresting. A rare misfire for writer/director George Clooney, the film never finds steady footing and tries to wisecrack its way through rather serious events. It’s the kind of Oscar bait that gets dumped to theaters in February.
Based upon the book of the same name, the story follows a rag-tag platoon of men hunting down pieces of art stolen by the Germans during World War II. Adolf Hitler has designs of creating his own museum to showcase the artwork of the people he has destroyed. President Roosevelt has approved a mission, led by Frank Stokes (Clooney), to retrieve the priceless masterpieces and return them to their rightful owners.
Much of the first act is devoted to repeatedly explaining how important this mission is. Once on the ground in Germany, France, and other locations, the film becomes a monotonous alternation of comedy and drama, with much of the comedy missing the mark and even, at times, seeming inappropriate. Only a scene involving one of the men accidentally stepping on a landmine that may or may not be live garners any laughs. Death scenes are glossed over in favor of comedy or strange artistic choices (a solo rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” over one seems gratuitous and out of place).
Perhaps the biggest misfire of all is squandering an absolutely stacked cast. Everyone does as good of a job as possible with the bland screenplay, but comedic talents like Murray and Goodman are given absolutely nothing interesting to do or say. Cate Blanchett does add a bit of an edge with her spy character, but she’s never fully fleshed out and is used only as a device to keep the plot moving.
The Monuments Men is certainly more of a miscalculation than a bad film. The issues start at the screenplay level and are mitigated by a great cast. It has moments that work, but never does the film feel like it’s taking the mission as seriously as it surely was in reality. These were still men in mortal danger most of the time and this assignment was one of importance if you believe in protecting a society’s greatest achievements. A good film could be made on the premise, but The Monuments Men is far too unfocused and threadbare to get the job done.
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Length: 118 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for some images of war violence and historical smoking.
Theatrical Release: February 7, 2014
Directed by: George Clooney
Written by: George Clooney & Grant Heslov. Based upon the book by Robert M. Edsel & Bret Witter.
Cast: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, John Goodman