Film review: THE MONUMENTS MEN, from Built For Speed

Based on the non-fiction book The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History, Monuments Men dramatises the time during World War Two when art critics invaded Germany. Throughout the war, the Nazis had stolen copious art treasures including Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child, from galleries and private collections across Europe. For what are purported in this film to be cultural rather than financial reasons, the American government sought to recover many of these priceless works.

In the film, a team of art experts lead by Lt and Professor Frank Stokes (George Clooney) is established to locate and retrieve these masterpieces.  Stokes’ team includes New York Metropolitan Museum curator James Granger (Matt Damon), architect Richard Campbell (Bill Murray), art connoisseur Preston Savitz (Bob Balaban), sculptor Walter Garfield (John Goodman), British art historian Lt Donald Jeffries (Hugh Bonneville) and Frenchman Jean Claude Clermnt (Jean Dujardin).  Distributed around France they attempt to locate a multitude of art works while staying one step ahead of the Germans, the Russians and American demolition teams.

With a phenomenal cast that also includes Cate Blanchett and a story that examines the link between the tumultuous events of the Second World War and some of the history’s greatest art works, The Monuments Men was one of the year’s most anticipated films.  Unfortunately, it turns out to be one of year’s biggest disappointments.

Clooney, who not only leads the on-screen mission but also directs the film, just can’t settle on a consistent or effective tone.  The film switches from jovial Oceans 11-style caper movie, to Dad’s Army-like military comedy to Raiders of the Lost Ark style adventure to serious war drama.  Unfortunately, none of these approaches entirely works.  A large part of the problem is the story structure which splits into several strands with each focusing on specific team members’ experiences.  None of the events depicted, however, are particularly dramatic, thought-provoking, emotionally affecting or (despite Bill Murray) funny.  With its meandering plot this film becomes a lacklustre slog with few memorable scenes except for a couple of Inglorious Basterds-style face offs between the Americans and sleazy, duplicitous Nazis.

The film’s 118 minutes seems much longer and the story only gains momentum and focus toward the end as the team battle against time to retrieve specific works of art such as the Van Eyck altarpiece before the encroaching Russians swipe them.  Too often the film tries to justify the mission by preaching about the value of art in the face of massive loss of life.  This justification was unnecessary and simply forces the audience to question the value of the film itself.  The Monuments Men also frequently lapses into clichéd sentimentality with dollops of twinkly music undercutting the drama.

The big name cast is mostly wasted with no one given the opportunity to establish a character that resonates with the audience.  It’s particularly disappointing to see Cate Blanchett fumbling through a dodgy French accent as officious gallery curator Claire Simone.  It seems that she’s really only there to provide a love interest for Matt Damon’s character.

With only fragments of compelling historical information and about as much emotional punch as a Hope/ Crosby jaunt through Morocco, The Monuments Men is a wasted opportunity.

Nick’s rating: **1/2

Genre: Historical/ Drama.

Classification: M.

Director(s): George Clooney.

Release date: 13thMar 2014

Running time: 118 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. 

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