Considering the cast at George Clooney’s disposal, his latest offering, The Monuments Men, is a rather dull affair. The story of a group of veteran American art collectors who bravely join the war effort to prevent priceless art falling into Nazi power, it feels rushed and romanticised.
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Clooney’s Frank Stokes gathers his chosen task force in the opening sequences, first visiting Matt Damon’s James Granger, who needs little convincing, joking with Stokes at a bar in a scene that looks as if it was pulled straight from an Ocean’s Eleven set. The film then jumps to a British training camp where Donald Jeffries, played by Hugh Bonneville, helps the ageing group through their basic training. Arriving in France the crew then divides. John Goodman is wasted in a side-story with Jean Dujardin which ends with the pair miraculously escaping a German ambush in the French countryside. The cinematography is excellent throughout, though the film never settles long enough to appreciate this. Bill Murray once again demonstrates his ability to make any film likeable. In a stand-off with a German soldier his carefree character lightens the mood with a complimentary cigarette whilst his elderly quarrels with Bob Balaban add comic relief.
Matt Damon is separated from the crew for much of the movie, spending most of his on-screen time trying to earn the trust of Claire Simone, played by Cate Blanchett. Simone works at the gallery in Paris which the Nazi’s are using to store all the stolen art. When the artwork is moved on to Germany, Simone has to decide if she can trust Granger to help reclaim it. Blanchett’s French accent is surprisingly good and in a movie severely lacking in female interaction she is a welcome inclusion. At dinner Simone gives Granger the records he needs, and avoiding Simone’s advances he makes a swift exit east in search of the remaining lost art. From here on in the film is a rush to the finish, with the crew running out of time to find the thousands of pieces of artwork stored in salt and copper mines deep in German territory. As should be expected the film has a very American feel; overloaded with seedy patriotism throughout, Clooney’s ‘inspirational’ voice overs sound wearyingly familiar. The final sequence of an old aged Stokes appreciating Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child with his son is unwanted and awkward. The movie’s best moments come on the brief occasions when some uninterrupted dialogue is provided. Stokes’s interrogation of a Nazi ringleader is both tense and entertaining, drawing on Quentin Tarantino’s brilliant opening to Inglourious Basterds, as is Murray and Balaban’s visit to the Nazi turned ‘farmer’ with expensive art suspiciously hanging on his walls.
Neither good nor bad, The Monuments Men never really knows what sort of movie it wants to be. None of the characters are properly fleshed out, leaving viewers indifferent to their outcome. A film which looked like fun to make, Clooney’s directing fails to capture this excitement on screen.