The Monuments Men
Director: George Clooney
Writer: George Clooney, Grant Heslov
Based on: Robert M. Edsel‘s non-fiction book The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History
Cast: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Hugh Bonneville, Bob Balaban, Dimitri Leonidas, Justus von Dohnányi
As World War II is in full swing, the European art collections (both private and public) are methodically plundered by the Nazis. So Frank Stokes (George Clooney) manages to get a squad together, consisting mostly of old men who know their art. They are tasked with saving what is left – from statues to paintings. But even as the end of the war comes ever closer, this is neither easy nor without its dangers.
The Monuments Men is a film that is utterly mediocre. (puzzledpeaces called it “beige” and that hits the nail on the head pretty much.) The script isn’t good, the directing isn’t good, the camera work isn’t good – but none of it is all that bad either. It’s a film that tries to be as acceptable as possible to as many people as possible and with that desire loses all shape and impact.
The Monuments Men was the cinematic equivalent of “painting by numbers”. The end result isn’t that bad but it certainly isn’t something you’d call art. They took the standard ingredients and mixed them in the standardized way and the result is, well, it’s there. It’s rather unoffensive. But it’s just too bland to do much with.
So you have your standard Nazis, practically cartoonish in their evil (Hitler in the shadow with the model of his museum was so ridiculous I actually laughed about it). You also have the standard Russians who might have been on the right side of the war but only by coincidence and only for their own gain. And you have the morally upstanding, wonderful Americans [who are so honorable in everything it makes you sick] who make everything right int he world, with a little support by the French and the British. But not too much! Of course there’s also one poor German-Jewish kid who had to flee to America and now fights against the Nazis himself. MURRICA! [That they apparently couldn’t find even one German native speaker for the role is very sad.]
There were some jokes that actually worked, mostly because you could give Bill Murray a math exam and he would make it funny, especially in combination with Bob Balaban. But most of the time the script was just weak and not helped at all by the direction or the camera work which were so completely obvious that you know what was going to happen just from the way things were set in scene. But honestly a script that has several monologues about its own message, plus an epilogue in case you still don’t know what it was about, couldn’t have been saved even by the best director. Even Desplat’s soundtrack was disappointing.
There was potential there, especially with that cast. The story could have been made into something. But it would have needed a more differentiating approach than what Clooney and Heslov offer here.