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The Monuments Men: Charming but Flat

February 8, 2014

I, like probably many of you, have seen trailers for the The Monuments Men and thought to myself, “Why that looks quite wonderful!” Then you might look over some reviews, and wonder why everyone seems to think it well… sucked. Where did it go wrong? Could it really be as bad as everyone says it is?

The answer is a very sad yes.

Alright, well maybe it’s not that bad. It’s aggressively ‘meh,’ which is, in my opinion at least, a much larger problem. You can’t rant about all the places it went wrong, or really tear it to pieces unless you have some sort of vendetta against George Clooney for being so handsome. The film has some charm but it ultimately just falls flat and it’s severely disappointing because of it.

The film tells the story of a group of older art experts who are on the hunt for great works that the Nazis have stolen throughout their march across Europe. Other soldiers are very skeptical of this ragtag bunch of older misfits who have this strange mission, and throughout the film they’re continuously left on their own with little to no resources whatsoever. Obviously, they do eventually start to get leads on the stolen art, and then it becomes a race against the Nazis who basically were of the opinion that if they couldn’t have it no one could and the Russians who are confiscating it for their own Russian-y purposes.

The story gets relayed to us in these short vignettes that rapidly move through the last year and a half of the war in Europe. The majority of the team is hunting for clues, saving what bits they can, and returning what was stolen. Meanwhile, Matt Damon tries to win the trust of Cate Blanchett, a French woman who collaborated with the Nazis and tracked what they were doing with all of the stolen art. Eventually, more thanks to the actions of his comrades than his own charms, Blanchett gives Damon her notes and explains what happens before making a pass at him because all French women (especially French female collaborators) were whores. I wouldn’t view this scene so harshly except that in their previous scene together, she seems so critical of unfaithful soldiers and their French counterparts.

That and of course you don’t get enough sense of any of these characters to know what they think or feel. There’s some how so much plot to cover, and the film seems so interested in it, that there’s never any time to develop the characters even into the tropes we might expect out of a war movie. I never remembered their names, I just kept calling them Bill Murray and Hugh Bonneville in my head. Worse, the only few charming moments in the whole film relate to the characters. There are a couple of scenes where actual character construction and interaction takes place and these are so moving and tenderly shot that it becomes infuriating to return to these dimly lit, flatly shot plot scenes.

Eventually, you start to wonder if this is supposed to be a joke. This whole thing is built like an old war movie from the 40s or 50s, especially thanks to it’s overly bombastic and patriotic score, that you start to think maybe Mr. Clooney is having one over on us. However, if it is a joke, it’s not a particularly funny one. There are moments of comedy, and there are serious moments, but none of it meshes together very well. You’re stuck waiting for a decisive turn in either direction before you realize that the war is over and they’re racing against time to save art from the Russians who we have only known about for twenty minutes.

Overall, The Monuments Men is a lackluster film. It’s not terrible by any stretch of the imagination but it clearly could have used a steadier hand at the wheel and a few more passes on its script. There’s hints of something good and interesting in here, that could have been teased out but wasn’t. A true disappointment from such a wonderful cast and crew.

My suggestion for the weekend is to ignore this film and go see The Lego Movie, I know I intend to.

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From → Movies

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