THE MONUMENTS MEN , an ambitious 2014 project from George Clooney, was certainly well-meant, but the tone wobbles all over the place. George pulled quadruple-duty: he co-wrote, co-produced, starred and directed. Unkind critics would label that a vanity gambol, but as a Clooney loyalist, I’d say the talented and ever-likable guy just bit off more than he could chew.
It’s the true story of a dedicated group of Allied soldiers (American, British and French) who undertake the task of finding and saving precious artwork and cultural artifacts from the Nazis. They do this, post D-Day, while the fighting rages across various European locales when the German armies retreat. Nazi units either loot or destroy treasures as they fall back–Clooney’s outfit races to prevent this. Mostly overage, and non-soldierly to start with, it’s a classic misfit bunch, this time with a sensitive, sometimes prickly intellectual bent (a somewhat loftier crew than The Dirty Dozen).
As it concerns Art, it’s surprising it would draw much of a crowd at all in the dumbed-down demographic of the times, but a vigorous ad campaign helped the $70,000,000 outlay recover $155,000,000. Critical reaction was mediocre. A great cast was assembled, but while Cate Blanchett is good (duh), John Goodman, Bill Murray and Bob Balaban are way too old to be believable in their roles. According to Clooney, the plotting is 80% factual*, but there’s no tension, no excitement and there is an excess of lame comedy. Another handicap is a limp, derivative music score from Alexandre Desplat.
As a star, this time Clooney gets a B-minus: he looks great in WW2 uniform and Gable mustache, but he’s a little too relaxed, and it comes off like coasting (too busy with his other duties). Directing, he earns a C+: it lacks pace, and a number of scenes just kind of sit there. His writing rates another C+: while a couple of the speeches are heartfelt and work, much of the repartee falls flat, anachronistic, and you get exposition that’s geared for a modern audience that doesn’t know where Europe is, let alone that someone with issues named Adolph wanted to rip it off.
In producing, George rates an A, marshaling up some fine production design, art direction, props and location shooting (mostly around Germany). It’s boasts a very nice ‘old-movie’ look instead of the desaturated faded-photo-album patina pasted on many period pieces in recent years, so there is some rich color to savor (credit cinematographer Phedon Papamichael). Some very good moments here and there, but all in all it would’ve been better served by a documentary.
118 minutes, with Matt Damon, Jean Dujardin, Hugh Bonneville and Dimitri Leonidas.
*Names were changed, events condensed. There were 345 men & women involved in the frantic and dangerous work. Mostly volunteers, it was a polyglot group from thirteen different countries, a blend of artists and art historians, museum curators, architects and professors. “You can wipe out an entire generation, you can burn their homes to the ground and somehow they’ll still find their way back. But if you destroy their history, you destroy their achievements and it’s as if they never existed.”