Nothing but greatness can be expected from the ‘The Monuments Men’, considering the amazing talent in front and behind the camera. With hopes this high, to say the movie disappoints is putting it mildly. It’s not quite the bummer that was ‘The Good German’ but I’d keep my excitement with a strong dash of cynicism when I see Clooney and coterie in a World War II film in the future.
Frank Stokes (George Clooney) on orders from the American government leads a motley crew of artists and academics into war torn Europe to save various pieces of art from the clutches of not just retreating Nazis, who are destroying what they can’t carry, but also the Russians, who are actively looking to forage these artworks as spoils of war. Each person on the group has a speciality of some sort which makes them excellent for recognising and evaluating works of art but other factors such as their age (in most cases) makes them terrible soldiers and not the best candidates to be right in the middle of the war. While the group splits into teams to work quicker and more efficiently, they are through much of the movie late to the party when it comes to major offensives during the war, be it Normandy or the Battle of Bulge. Also caught up in the mix is a French art curator, Claire Simone (Cate Blanchett), trying to save art by working with the French resistance.
Based on true events, the movie of course does take creative liberties but that is the least of your worries in terms of the plot. The problem arises once the group splits and heads in different directions. While each group and character probably get sufficient space to grow, none are quite endearing or impactful. You’d remember them more by the actor who played them rather than the character they were. Other than Cate Blanchett who’s sublime in her portrayal throughout, the others are most of the time mere hazy reflections of characters they have played before.
This is not to say, that the movie doesn’t have merit. Some of the scenes are masterful and Clooney’s monologues though preachy in parts still give you goosebumps. There is earnestness but it’s diluted with the inability of the plot to arrive at any sort of cohesion as to the actions of the characters. They are working towards a common goal but that makes for a better real life story suited for a documentary rather than a movie narrative so flat that it screams for an influx of sustainable emotion. There are of course scenes like the recording Bill Murray’s character receives from his grandchildren or the untimely demise of some key members of the team that fill you with concern and sympathy for the characters, but these are too few and far in between.
The locations and sets are top notch which combined with the gorgeous cinematography look magnificent. Even Alexandre Despalt’s background score is quite good as the performances from all the actors, though some like Bill Murray are handed criminally underwritten roles.
‘The Monuments Men’ has some brilliant scenes coupled with a beautifully mounted production, which keep the movie afloat during times when the screenplay fails you on the overall. Much like the mission in the movie, the intent is good; the execution however leaves a lot to be desired. I’d recommend a watch in the theatres but would also recommend a watch of John Frankenheimer’s, high octane action-adventure, ‘The Train’ (1964) which had somewhat of a similar subject but got all the right ingredients to make an exciting watch.view less