The Monuments Men

February 7, 2014

in Movies

Film (2014)

Directed by George Clooney

Screenplay by George Clooney and Grant Heslov
Based on the book The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert M. Edsel and Bret Witter

Music: Alexandre Desplat, Director of Photography: Phedon Papamichael, Film Editing: Stephen Mirrione

With George Clooney (Frank Stokes), Matt Damon (James Granger), Bill Murray (Richard Campbell), Cate Blanchett (Claire Simone), John Goodman (Walter Garfield), Jean Dujardin (Jean Claude Clermont), Hugh Bonneville (Donald Jeffries), Bob Balaban (Preston Savitz)

Matt Damon as James Granger, Cate Blanchette as Claire Simone in 'The Monuments Men'

Matt Damon as James Granger
Cate Blanchette as Claire Simone
in “The Monuments Men”
Photo: Claudette Barius
Copyright: © 2013 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc.
and Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
All Rights Reserved.

Near the end of World War II, a group of experts try to save great works of art from destruction: intentional, by the Nazis, and inadvertent, from Allied bombings.

Frank Stokes (George Clooney) is enlisted to gather a group of middle-aged experts to enlist in the armed forces in order to save art treasures from destruction in Europe at the end of World War II.

The subject of this film is fascinating and, by rights, it should have been not only thrilling, but meaningful and rich on a variety of fronts. In the end, despite one’s hopes and the film’s good intentions, the result is not that great.

Surprisingly, Clooney, who demonstrated his significant capacities and director in Good Night and Good Luck (2005) and The Ides of March (2011), comes across with a less than satisfying result here; it is not exactly clear why.

The acting talent on hand is significant. The Monuments Men – Matt Damon (James Granger), John Goodman (Walter Garfield), Jean Dujardin (Jean Claude Clermont), Bill Murray (Richard Campbell), Bob Balaban (Preston Savitz) and Hugh Bonneville (Donald Jeffries) – all weigh in. The acting itself – and, hence, that aspect of the direction – is not bad overall.

However, there is something flawed generally in the writing and editing. The tone is weirdly inconsistent at a variety of points, veering from intense and heartbreaking to giddy and frivolous. The obvious intent is to create a story of cultural and military heroism that has the quality of a good ole boy World War II film. Unfortunately, that combination of intentions does not come off well; the good ole boy elements seem forced, out of place, and not much fun.

Cate Blanchette has a turn as a very serious Parisian art curator forced to work with the Nazi occupation and does a pretty good job of holding down the severe corner with her innate capacity for bottled sang-froid. She has chemistry with Damon’s character, but, in the midst of the rest of the half-baked frivolity, it seems somewhat out of place.

Clooney and Damon make a great buddy pair, and, were the film shaped a bit differently, their comradeship would have been very winning.

The role of Preston Savitz, played by Bob Balaban, is apparently inspired by Lincoln Kirstein, who took part in the historic events upon which the book and film are based. After the war, Kirstein went on to found The New York City Ballet. (Slate)

Bob Balaban always seems to provide a kind of prevailing dourness which hovers on the comedic but is never over the top – the innate irony in his stance makes the puckered persona always go down more easily than expected. Here, his performance perhaps rises, more than the others, to the combination of serious intent and comradely fun that director Clooney seeks but generally misses.

George Clooney as Frank Stokes, Hugh Bonneville as Donald Jeffries in 'The Monuments Men'

George Clooney as Frank Stokes
Hugh Bonneville as Donald Jeffries
in “The Monuments Men”
Photo: Claudette Barius
Copyright: © 2013 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc.
and Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
All Rights Reserved.

The music by Alexandre Desplat is annoyingly omnipresent. It is as though this film were expecting its musical themes to be memorable in The Bridge Over River Kwai mold, but it winds up an endless, intrusive nuisance. Desplat has done effective and tasteful scores for Argo (2012) and for The King’s Speech (2010), but there is something way off here.

Despite all the talent that has gone into this film, there is something in the final cut that has not come together, making for a result that is neither really stirring nor entertaining. Though it is good fun to watch all the great actors in this cast, I came away feeling that, as with the recent August Osage County (2013), also top-heavy with acting talent, the result falls far short of expectations.

– BADMan

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