The Monuments Men

Director: George Clooney

Starring: George Clooney,  Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Cate Blanchett, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban, Hugh Bonneville

Written by: George Clooney, Grant Heslov, (based on the book) Robert M. Edsel and Bret Witter

Running Time: 115 mins

Cert: 12A

Release Date: 14th February 2014

The Monuments Men has everything going for it: a smashing cast, a director who has made some interesting past movies and a story set during World War 2 that could be up there with the likes of Kelly’s Heroes as a fun caper. So what has gone wrong? Quite a bit, actually.

Hitler has ordered the German army to steal the most important works of art in order to fill his own personal museum. Frank Stokes, a man passionate for art and one who can understand their importance, persuades the US Army to enlist seven top brains in the art world to train and then train down these stolen gem. Past their primes, the Monument Men are formed and while they face objections from others, they are determined to retrieve these classics pieces before they are lost forever in a vault belonging to the Nazis.

The film’s big problem is its tone. Director and co-writer doesn’t have a clue how to handle the story. Is it a crime caper? Is it a serious examination of how Hitler came to possess the greatest art collection? Is it a tale of a rag-tag band trying to change the world? In all this confusion, the film veers from light and fluffy to serious but they seem to sit uncomfortably together. It is an important true story and without these brave men, we wouldn’t have the art that is around the world for us to enjoy.

It’s as if Clooney doesn’t want to upset anyone and so he’s tip-toeing around the edges. He wants it to be Kelly’s Heroes and all those great boy’s own war adventures but political correctness has interfered so he must not make too light of things. Serious subject matters can have a lightness of touch but every time you think it’s going down that road, he gets all straight-faced. It’s like Ocean’s 11 but with the fun sucked out of it. Even the poster promises us a heist movie.

This is a pity because he has filled his cast with expert actors who can handle comedy brilliantly and yet he’s pulling at the reins all the time. So just when the men are being likeable and funny, with banter aplenty, he constantly reminds us why we are there, watching them. We are given explanation about art, the mission and that they should put themselves first and the art second,  which means that the advice being rammed down our throats with naturally be ignored. Just when you think the action is about to start, we are given another reminder…and another.

It also has this bad habit of treating the audience as fools. A scene involving Matt Damon in a plane flying over the Eiffel Tower and he screams “PARIS!” to which the reply from the pilot is “PARIS!” Really? Did we really need that? I’m sure we could have worked it was Paris by the large metal tower and by the outrageous French accents.

The cast, which is impressive no matter how you look at it, are good if a little wasted. There are flashes when you think, yes that’s what they do good. These are only flashes, though, deserving so much more. While Clooney leads the pack, almost from afar, he doesn’t soak up the limelight, allowing equal screen time for his colleagues.

Bill Murray and Bob Balaban make for an agreeable double act but they aren’t given enough time for their odd couple routine to really shine. Jean Dujardin gives his matinée idol smile that won him instant admiration in The Artist and Hugh Bonneville is does a fine job as the token Brit. John Goodman is always good value and here he does have a few choice moments, while Matt Damon swings in the middle, taking on the role you’d expect Gorgeous George to play. The strangest casting is Cate Blanchett as a French museum secretary, whose accent is just this side of ‘Allo ‘Allo.

What we have here is a film that promises loads but delivers a mess. If only George had the nerve to go out-and-out with an all action war adventure or, a straight examination of these unsung heroes. By mixing the pair, everything feels off balanced. A big, fat, wasteful disappointment.

2/5

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