(Sad though we are to hear it, Rohan Morbey, who blogs at Stop Thinking For Yourself UK, shares the keen disappointment that seems universally felt over George Clooney's The Monuments Men, and has allowed us to cross-post his review of the movie. We're always happy to include his posts here, and recommend that you follow Rohan on Twitter.)
The Second World War is full of incredible stories both on and off the battlefield and the decision to tell this particular facet is entirely justified. I am fascinated by stories such as this one which saw attempts to retrieve art and valuable items of cultural importance from the Nazis; we know Hitler didn’t order cities like Oxford to be bombed because he appreciated the architecture and history, yet he had no regard for the lives of 6 million Jews. The conflicted ideologies of such men, and the efforts of those who dared to stop them will forever be a subject of great interest.
Why then, given such its interesting and untold (cinematically speaking) story, is The Monuments Men such a let-down? The answer is multi-faceted, but it all points to the same conclusion; narrative and tone, both of which are at odds with each other. The story sees a band of soldiers forming a team to pull the ‘greatest art heist in history’ yet we know nothing about why these men were chosen, what their background is (other than the briefest of job titles), what they bring to the mission, or why it is important to them. The actors, including George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman and Bob Balaban, are given nothing to work with. There’s not even some quirky charm for Murray, Goodman, or Balaban to play. That’s not to say they should only play to type but when they are given nothing it makes you wonder: why they were cast? For gravitas? Perhaps. But more likely it’s because they don’t look like the regular soldiers we see in WWII film; one is large, one is in his senior years, and one can deliver deadpan expressions.
We have seven men we know nothing about, but at least their mission will be of interest, right? Wrong. There is no heist, nor is there any real fact finding or planning to get us hooked and looking forward to the missions; for the first 80 minutes of this two hour film there is such little momentum that the film is in danger of falling over, and it is made even worse by the attempts to manufacture emotions by punctuating the script with attempts at comedy which are never funny, or attempts at reminding us how terrible the Nazis are. When one character dies it has no impact on us, but the plot depends on it to motivate the team to find one statue in particular to honour his sacrifice. This is an impossible task considering the man has spent all of five minutes on screen. A scene where Matt Damon steps on a landmine and the team has to set him free is perfectly fine as a comedic beat, but it’s followed immediately by the discovery of a barrel full of gold taken from the teeth of holocaust victims. The uneven tone of the film means it never has the chance to settle and the audience grows increasingly restless.
Clooney clearly has an appreciation for the classical Hollywood era, as can be seen in his films Leatherheads and Good Night and Good Luck (or even Steven Soderbergh’s The Good German, which he starred in). But here he is trying too hard to remind us of 1950s war films with genuinely good, faultless, earnest characters and speeches about how ‘we can’t let the Krauts get away with this.’At the same time he promises a film about missions, heists, and stealing from the Nazis (Ocean’s Eleven: The War Years), but only offers scenes with lackluster banter and a distinct lack of camaraderie.
At the start of the year I made one of those meaningless top five most anticipated films of the 2014, based purely on the pedigree of the cast and crew involved. The Monuments Men was at number five because I could see no way this story and this cast could disappoint, but how wrong I was. Despite the fine actors (and the equally fine Alexandre Desplat score), I could see this as being the most disappointing film of the year.