Yet another World War II film, but who can resist the temptation to go and see it anyway? War and military buffs alike would have been thrilled with excitement when they saw the previews. The Monuments Men was advertised as an edgy, hip, upbeat Oceans 11-like film filled with an A-list cast that certainly looked fail-safe. However, even with the star-studded cast the film fell flat and entirely short of satisfaction.
This is George Clooney’s fifth time in the director’s chair. Previous films Clooney directed are mostly unknown, such as Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and Good Night, and Good Luck. He also portrays the leading character and narrator of the film, Frank Stokes who was based on Monuments man George L Stout. Along side Clooney are the expected veterans Private Ryan-Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Hugh Bonneville, Bob Balaban and the effervescent Cate Blanchett.
The Monuments Men were a group of Allied servicemen, cobbled together by President Roosevelt in 1943, who were responsible for saving cultural artefacts during the war. They managed to save hundreds of thousands of artworks and artefacts from the Nazis and until now have been relatively unknown in popular culture. The premise of The Monuments Men is engaging and it’s easy to see why it was made into a film. Unfortunately it seems that Clooney got far too involved with just showing us the story rather than telling it.
The film is vaguely entertaining; it’s definitely more of a comedy than a drama. It tries so hard to retain its upbeat light heartedness that it really takes the depth out of more sensitive scenes. One-liners fall flat. The relationships between most of the characters seem shallow and superficial and there is no room for character building. Matt Damon is Matt Damon in uniform and George Clooney is George Clooney. It’s like a dot point essay of The Monuments Men, while throwing in the odd courageous speech related to saving culture and inserting the occasional dramatic death scene. It jumps back and forth between important battles and cities of Europe but there are surprisingly no battle scenes or any violence at all.
The only thing that saves this film is our dear Cate Blanchett as Claire Simone, a French woman who secretly works for the Resistance. Although her French accent is a bit patchy, she certainly embodies more of her character than any of the other cast could even hope to accomplish. She brings a little class and glamour to a somewhat male dominated cast.
The film lacks a depth and heart that most other movies of its genre contain. The characters are one dimensional and it tries to cover far too much ground without paying enough attention to detail. Clooney has tried to make parts of it ‘arty’ and deep with sweeping monologues of whether art is worth someone’s life and vague references to the Holocaust. But the film is hard to take seriously as it almost feels like Hogan’s Heroes or M.A.S.H. It’s certainly interesting to watch, if only to learn about what The Monuments Men accomplished and just this general sub facet of the war, but unfortunately the film was not engaging and definitely leaves you bereft.