Directed by: George Clooney
Starring: George Clooney, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Matt Damon, Cate Blancett
With his previous directing effort The Ides of March George Clooney proved that he can deliver a good and entertaining movie. The Monuments Men is a much bigger film in nearly every way compared to The Ides of March. It’s clear that Clooney wanted to deliver a rollicking 1950’s style WWII adventure film with The Monuments Men. Clooney managed to assemble one of the strongest casts we are likely to see in a film this year with himself, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray and John Goodman. I’d hoped that maybe some of Steven Soderberg’s skills working with big ensemble casts in the Ocean’s films might have rubbed off on Clooney as I settled in to watch this film. Unfortunately though The Monuments Men seems to get away from Clooney here and much of the potential of the story and cast is lost.
Clooney plays Stokes, the leader of a group of scholars and art historians assembled to go to Europe during World War II to rescue art stolen by the Germans. Hitler had ordered that all of the stolen art would be destroyed if it appeared the Germans were going to lose the war. So the team was put through basic training and sent off to the front to recover every bit of art they can. The cast works the best when they are together playing off each other. Sadly nearly immediately the team splits up to run separate missions coordinated by Stokes over radio. It seems like Clooney had a huge bulleted list to hit with this film and he began focusing on those points rather than developing what could be some intriguing characters. The only character that seems to get any development at all is Cate Blanchett’s Claire, a secretary in Paris who gets real investment in the loss of the art. Because she gets the best and most character development Blanchett offers up the strongest performance in the film. All of the actors are great here but they just don’t have much to do.
Throughout the film there are times when it feels like the story is about to take that turn into something special and right on the precipice it just backs off. One example is when everything is at its worst and Murray’s character gets a message from home. What should be something to make him happy is contrasted with all of the horribleness that is happening. The scene is fantastic but after it’s over we get back to hitting the bullet points. On that note there doesn’t seem to be any development or depth to the missions. The plan just seems to exist; it doesn’t develop organically at all. The best chemistry comes from the interactions between Damon and Blanchett but again nothing really seems to be happening with that part of the story especially when we divert to Damon interacting with his friend and contact in Paris. Clooney attempts to add weight to the proceedings with exposition about how important saving the art is to the world. It comes off a little heavy handed and “messagy”.
The Monuments Men could be a comedic adventure or a dramatic and realistic story and it isn’t either. The film doesn’t know what it wants to be and it nearly sinks under the weight of all of the details that Clooney tries to invest into the background. The moments of magic and the fascinating true story do make The Monuments Men worth watching but sadly the film just never hits the level that Clooney was shooting for. Maybe there’ll be a much longer cut of the film on blu-ray that will better flesh out the story that Clooney had hoped to tell.