The Monuments Men: Movie Review
Cast: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Cate Blanchett, Hugh Bonneville, Bob Balaban
Director: George Clooney
Packing a powerhouse cast, The Monuments Men is based on a true story in World War II.
George Clooney is Professor Frank Stokes, who's tasked by FDR with going into Germany with a group of ragtag recruits and rescuing artistic masterpieces from the clutches of Hitler and his proposed museum of art.
But this team of seven men - from museum directors, curators to art historians - seem a highly unlikely bunch to go to the front line and face the Nazis, let alone swoop in and save art. Along with resistance from their own side, Stokes and the team have more than got their work cut out for them as the personal toll rises.
The Monuments Men may be based on a true story, but the film is an odd patch quilt of mismatched tones and ideas. In some parts, it tries to be a true war film, exposing some of the horrors of the Nazi regime; at other times, it's clearly a humour based caper as the art quest steps up and in other places, it's a typical derring do war drama that aims to tug at the heartstrings and exploits your feelings.
But tonally, the final mix doesn't quite work, leaving the feeling that the film is overall slightly flat.
It could, in part, be something to do with the structure, which splits the men up into Odd Couple groups before dropping them behind enemy lines and trying to string together a series of episodes with the slightest of connecting narratives. When the cast is reunited on screen towards the end of the film, it's clear there's a chemistry between them all which is missing when they're split; while the couples work well, the odd mismatched atmosphere doesn't quite gel together and the film ever so slightly jars.
Clooney's done a great job in recreating the atmosphere and actualities of the era and the story he's chosen to tell is one that taps into something inherent in the annals of war movies - a tale of ragtag misfits who defy the odds to beat the bad guys and sock it to ole Mr Hitler. But the execution of the story doesn't quite deliver the euphoric thrill you'd expect from a stellar cast.
Of the cast, Jean Dujardin and John Goodman work well as opposites - his French charm is counterbalanced by Goodman's almost dour delivery; Bill Murray's deadpan gels with Bob Balaban's simmering resentment. However, Matt Damon fares worst with Cate Blanchett's character, who appears to have sucked a truck load of lemons and is as tart and sour as she can muster for a French resistance fighter who's forced to work with the Nazis. Bonneville does a version of his Downton Abbey character, and it feels slight, a once over of a character whose years of regrets are hinted at but not fully explored.
That's some of the problem of the film - the characters work well as an ensemble but when split feel sketchy at best - and it's a pity as the dialogue and banter between them is actually unexpectedly hilarious as you'd want for a fish-out-of-water scenario.
Overall, The Monuments Men is a good story with an odd execution more than anything - the mismatch of tone is distracting and almost fatal at times, rendering the whole exercise a little flat. It's a shame because it's one of the great untold stories of the war time era - it's just a pity that Clooney couldn't quite bring the fire and passion of the onscreen story to life.