GEORGE Clooney takes a band of brothers to Europe to liberate some art masterpieces from a dastardly villain. Sounds like an Ocean’s Eleven sequel, doesn’t it? Well, the only similarity The Monuments Men has with that hit caper franchise is the fact that it stars Clooney and his friends.
Directed by Clooney himself, the film is based on the book of the same name by Robert M. Edsel, which in turn is based on the true story of the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives programme, a band of Allied soldiers in WWII tasked to find the countless, priceless pieces of art and culturally-significant artefacts stolen by the Nazis, and making sure they survive the war.
These seven “soldiers” (they’re actually museum directors, curators and art historians) – Lt Frank Stoke (Clooney), Lt James Granger (Matt Damon), Sgt Richard Campbell (Bill Murray), Sgt Walter Garfield (John Goodman), Lt Jean Claude Clermont (Jean Dujardin), Pvt Preston Savitz (Bob Balaban), and Lt Donald Jeffries (Hugh Bonneville) – have to race against time to save these artworks before Hitler destroys them all or they fall into the hands of the Russians.
This marketing for this movie painted the pretty picture (pardon the pun) of an ensemble movie, a caper film set in WWII. What we get is a rather directionless movie about a group of men running separately around Europe, looking for paintings and chasing down statues.
One guy goes off to Bruges to look at a statue, one pair is charged with tracking down where the Nazis stashed the art, one pair looks for an altar that is supposed to be the symbol of European unity (or something like that, it’s never clear exactly how important the piece really is), while Granger heads to Paris and gets to dabble in a fleeting romance with Cate Blanchett, the lucky fella.
It’s like a watching a series of independent short buddy movies that have nothing in common, except for looking for stolen artwork in the same continent. Everything meanders along rather aimlessly most of the time, and there is seldom a sense of urgency in the team’s mission. In fact, the film moves along at such a leisurely, friendly pace at times that you half expect the cast to break out into song and dance whenever someone finds a painting.
Even when a villain finally meets his comeuppance, it’s done so matter-of-factly that you wonder why Clooney bothered trying to develop the character in the first place.
Much has been made about how Clooney called in favours from his friends in the A-list, the likes of Blanchett and Damon, to make this movie. However, I rather suspect they probably won’t jump in so eagerly the next time The Charming One comes a-calling.
Blanchett’s role as art curator Claire Simone in particular is so undercooked that it didn’t really need an actress of her calibre to play the role, while you hardly remember what Lt Granger actually does beyond flirting with Blanchett, hanging a picture on a wall, and being Matt Damon. While the subject matter is quite poignant (I never thought I’d feel so sad watching a painting go up in flames), and Clooney frequently questions the value of saving a piece of art versus saving a person’s life, the director doesn’t seem to be able to decide where he wants the movie to go.
Is it a heist movie? Is it an ensemble buddy movie? Is it a historical war movie? Is it an exploration of the value of art? Or is it just an excuse to get the gang together to make a movie and shoot guns? In the end, this indecisiveness results in a slightly sentimental, fundamentally flawed movie with ornamental characters, and is oceans away from being monumental.