The Monuments Men
Dir: George Clooney
Starring: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Hugh Bonneville, Bob Balaban, Dimitri Leonidas and Cate Blanchett
Run-Time: 118 Mins
Based on the true-story of the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Program, an allied group set-up to find and save pieces of rare art before their capture and/or destruction by Hitler; director, producer and star George Clooney has assembled an all-star cast for his fifth directorial outing. The film uses Robert M. Edsel’s book The Monument’s Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History as a base.
Tonally, The Monument’s Men seems caught in a no-man’s land between light-hearted adventure and serious drama; with a lot of humour and an upbeat score fitting awkwardly with the weightier elements. Balancing high drama with humour is a tightrope act and Clooney does not pull it off. It needs to either be a gritty war film with some levity or a boys’ own romp complete with high gag hit-rate and a jaunty soundtrack. Clooney goes for both and the result is that he truly hits neither.
Each character gets paired off for their own adventure and Monument’s Men jumps around far too much between them; the result being that we end up caring for none of the stories. If there was no extra run-time to be found, then simply not cutting between the stories so quickly could have worked better; but the feeling can’t be escaped that this should have been a TV mini-series where entire episodes could have been dedicated to one character’s mission. Of course, it is highly unlikely that such a cast would have signed up for that. It doesn’t help that a lot of the missions go nowhere. Murray and Balaban go to a snowy camp in the woods apropos of nothing; Damon and Blanchett share an utterly listless non-affair and while Goodman and Dujardin get into some interesting scrapes they wind up getting slightly lost in the shuffle.
The A-List cast certainly justify their appearance fees. While none stand-out, they do their best with characters that are as written, flat and interchangeable – Clooney’s Frank Stokes aside. Each brings their trademarks; Murray and his stoic, glib, deadpan cynicism, Jean Dujardin with that grin and charisma you could bathe in, Goodman with his Pandora’s box of amusing facial expressions and impeccable timing. At times it leaves the feeling that you are watching Murray, Dujardin, Goodman et al through, rather than them playing characters. Maybe it is a form of shorthand, a way of the actors establishing character on top of the bare bones they were given, working as best they can with what they’ve got to make the characters more memorable than they should be.
There are a couple of expertly crafted scenes – for example Goodman and Dujardin discovering a horse in a field…and something else in the bushes; or Damon returning a stolen painting to a now abandoned apartment – and as director Clooney certainly has an eye for framing and visuals, so Monuments Men often looks superb. The pacey tempo stops the film from ever being boring; and with a cast that boasts Murray and Goodman amongst it, when the comedy hits it really hits, but ultimately for a film about war and the preservation of European Culture it just feels so inconsequential.