Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Monuments Men (2014)

I heard the working title for The Monuments Men was Monument's Eleven.

Okay, I didn't actually hear that, but that's the vibe I got while watching The Monuments Men. George Clooney assembles a team, albeit an older one, but still happens to include MATT DAMON, to steal back a bunch of stolen art from some asshole. Sound familiar? Same general story, different locale.

In this case the asshole was Hitler, who had the Nazis going around Europe stealing works of art. So, not only was Hitler a genocidal maniac, he was a selfish hoarder. A team led by Lt. Frank Stokes (Clooney) is tasked with finding, recovering and returning these works of art. There's also concern that Hitler will destroy it all when they lose the war (since this is based on true events, we all know it's not going to go well for Hitler). Plus, the Russians are also trying to loot the art for their own collection.

Joining Stokes' team is Bob Balaban, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Hugh Bonneville and Bill Murray. It's a great cast and they play well off each other, but we spend so little time with any of them that it seems like a waste. I can't recall many movies where I felt like Bill Murray was underused, but it happens here. Everyone is off in smaller, two man teams, rarely spending any time together as a full group. We barely learn anything about the Men as a result. Much like I complained in Lone Survivor, I could hardly remember any character's name by the end of the film.

Matt Damon spends most of his time with Cate Blanchett, but can you blame him? I'd much rather spend time with her than a bunch of guys. Blanchett plays a French national working at the Louvre who also wants to recover the art, but doesn't trust Damon and the American's intentions. Like the rest of the cast, Blanchett was underused, and it's a shame to get someone like her and have her do so little. She's not even on the poster, so it's not like she was cast for her star power or box office draw. There's nothing in the role that they couldn't have just gotten a lesser known, French actress. This isn't a knock on Blanchett, but more the lack of development in the characters.  Nobody is really required to do any heavy lifting.

The Monuments Men also runs a tad too long. After many, many scenes series of them driving back and forth, going through various art caches, it gets a little repetitive. Some scenes felt totally unnecessary. The narrative is very scattered as it randomly jumps around without any rhyme or reason.

There's very little tension (again, we know how it's going to turn out), and many of the moments where they attempt to build some suspense are immediately diffused with humor. It's surprisingly light, despite being framed around World War II and people dying around them. There are many times where it tries to pull on the heart strings a little, but fails to connect and comes off as sappy, especially with the overstated score.

I can see how George Clooney was trying to make a statement about the importance of art as their grander purpose, but this gets lost in the inconsistent tone of the film. Of Clooney's directed films, this is the weakest I can recall and felt like more of a pet project where he assembled a few friends to make a film.

The Monuments Men assembles a great cast and is pleasant enough, but substitutes charm for a compelling story or characters. It's ultimately forgettable, but the kind of film you'd probably enjoy if you caught on cable when flipping channels. Nothing you need to rush out and see, but not that bad either.

2.5 (out of 5) Death Stars

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