George Clooney sure does know how to make a movie. He’s directed some memorable ones too. I really enjoyed Good Night, and Good Luck and thought The Ides of March was wonderful. In a recent Reddit AMA, Clooney explained that The Monuments Men was an attempt at creating a less cynical movie; He explained that his past pictures had been too cynical. The Monuments Men is certainly a more positive and comedic turn, but is it good? Hit the jump to find out what I thought.
The Monuments Men is an action drama focusing on an unlikely group of WWII soldiers on a mission into Germany to rescue artistic masterpieces from Nazi thieves and returning them to their rightful owners. As they criss-cross Europe, they are met with all sorts of challenges. While the emphasis here is on drama and comedy, more than action, some moments include gunplay and a few tense situations. If you were looking for a big action extravaganza, you’ll be disappointed.
There are moments that work very well. Clooney does have an eye for things that might seem mundane but become more significant in moments that are bigger. One scene that sicks with me is when Dujardin stops by the side of a road to look at a horse. The horse doesn’t really move the story in any major way, but the scene is poignant given the many other elements at work in this seemingly deserted field. If I were more cynical, I’d say this doesn’t fit; But, if you let it fit, the movie is better for it.
This is probably my biggest gripe with The Monuments Men. The story and a MacGuffin related to a sculpture of Madonna give little weight or urgency to the story. The pieces are wonderful often, but there just isn’t a fluidity here as a whole. There is a feeling that this was a difficult movie edit. Many scenes are disjointed in the worst ways. There are moments that happen and provide some levity or gravity, but feel like they could have been placed almost anywhere in the movie. One such scene is when Matt Damon‘s James Granger gets a piece of art in Paris and rather inexplicably returns it to the Jewish owners it came from. While this a touching moment, it felt like it carried little weight and could have been left out of the movie.
The actors are all extremely charismatic. If this were an episode of Saturday Night Live, it would probably play better and not carry the burden of having any sort of fluidity. One such great scene is the land mine Granger steps on, and the subsequent ribbing he gets from others. You saw some of this in the trailers, and the scene plays well with the actors. I imagine that was effortless to make.
Their charisma is belied by the characters abnormal actions in that scene. To have them all stand around while Granger steps off the mine makes little sense (beyond, perhaps making these characters look noble). Having them all stand around to face a stupid death makes such little sense and creates a a real sense that the movie’s puzzle pieces are out of place. Naturally, the mine is a dud, and our intrepid men continue.
There are lots of these kinds scenes. The actors playing well off each other, but really serving what feels like little purpose to the story. Often, I felt the jokes fell flat, but naturally, your mileage may vary. The sets look beautiful, and the actor’s wardrobe is incredible. Much of this is a feast for the eyes. I really enjoyed the look of the Men landing on a Normandy beach. The fighting soldiers had left the war behind, and our heroes had to walk past the damage left by the two sides. It really left me with the idea of what destruction war brings to everything.
It’s a shame, because these wonderful things that Clooney put together in this movie make me feel like we were robbed of something great. After Granger gets the entire list of art pieces from Claire Simone, we don’t get a triumphant and excited Granger, returning with the complete solution to our major mystery. In fact, by the time he gets back, much of the mystery had been solved anyway.
One of the main themes at work here is about the worthiness of saving art. Is it worth dying for? Clooney’s movie not only asks an important question, but appears to say unquestionably, yes. While he could have backed it up better than this, The Monuments Men shows us a world that is, at least hopeful enough to include men that died for that ideal. The real great men and women who were part of the monuments, fine arts, and archives program deserve to be remembered.
The Monuments Men stars George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardian, Bob Balaban, and Cate Blanchett. The hunt for humanity’s great works of art begins February 7th, 2014.