The Monuments Men
Director: George Clooney.
Screenplay: George Clooney, Grant Heslov.
Starring: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Cate Blanchett, Hugh Bonneville, Bob Balaban, Demitri Leonidas, Alexandre Desplat.
“You can wipe out an entire generation, you can burn their homes to the ground and somehow they’ll still find their way back. But if you destroy their history, you destroy their achievements and it’s as if they never existed. That’s what Hitler wants and that’s exactly what we are fighting for”
When George Clooney made his directorial debut in 2002 with the off-beat Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and followed it up with the superb McCarthyism drama Good Night and Good Luck it seemed that he had just as much talent behind the camera as he did in front of it. However, the dull Leatherheads and largely disappointing The Ides of March came next which threw some doubt over his ability to call the shots. The Monuments Men, unfortunately, has more in common with his latter efforts.
During World War II, Frank Stokes (George Clooney) learns of Hitler’s intention to steal the world’s greatest works of art for his own personal museum. Under the permission of President Roosevelt, Stokes assembles an unlikely platoon of art experts to enter into war-torn Europe and rescue thousands of years of cultural heritage before the Nazis and the Soviets get their hands on them.
Credit to Clooney for trying to evoke old-fashioned Hollywood movies as, for the most part, he succeeds. There’s a pleasant feel to the proceedings that brings reminders of John Sturges’ The Great Escape or Robert Aldrich’s The Dirty Dozen. Like those films, it has an abundance of quality actors onscreen and despite their roles seriously lacking in characterisation they bring a certain playfulness and much needed charisma. In fact, if the stars weren’t as easily watchable as they are then the film itself would completely fall flat. Despite it’s easy going nature, though, there are glaring shifts in tone. Just as your relaxing into the whole caper vibe, it throws in some serious dramatic moments and events that are jarring. I suppose I may be being overly critical when the film is all about a race against fascism but it just struck me that Clooney couldn’t fully realise his intentions here.
An admirable attempt to replicate an old-fashioned movie but it only really works on the surface. Once you dig a little deeper, it’s all very two dimensional and superficial. That being said, if all you’re looking for is some unabashed entertainment without having to think too much then this should go down without much fuss.
Trivia: Daniel Craig was originally cast but ultimately had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts. Matt Damon replaced him.