Overview: The Monuments Men follows the true story of an unlikely World War II platoon, made up of artists and scholars, that is tasked with rescuing precious art stolen by the Nazis. 2014; Rated PG-13; 110 minutes.
Here We Go: I have no doubt that George Clooney, who acted in and directed The Monuments Men, had noble intentions. He wanted to show that art is important. That we truly need it. That’s it’s worth saving and even worth dying for. I like that message; I do. Unfortunately, despite his best efforts, The Monuments Men didn’t work. Put simply, it was a confused, scatterbrained, overly sentimental mess.
So, Why Didn’t It Work?: With Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Bob Balaban, Hugh Bonneville, and Cate Blanchett all playing major roles, there’s clearly an abundance of talent here. And it’s based on an inspiring true story. But for incomprehensible reasons, most of the talent isn’t used, and despite having the fascinating story to work with, The Monuments Men doesn’t have much genuine plot. As the men travel from one location to another, most of the film becomes expositional. When characters and relationships are well-developed, movies sometimes don’t need a strong overarching narrative. The Monuments Men doesn’t succeed in those areas either. The characters don’t have backstories and other than the fact that they’re artists themselves, the reasons for their involvement in this lethally dangerous mission are never explored. By the end of the film, viewers will probably have a tough time even remembering the characters’ names.
Genre Confusion: Behind the lack of character development is a lack of direction. After the men set out to retrieve the art, they split up and travel to various locations. Drastically different subplots make the film feel incredibly disjointed. For example, Damon and Blanchett seem like characters in a romantic drama as they dance around their sexual tension. Clooney and Bonneville act like they’re in a dramatic period piece. Goodman and Jean Dujardin are in a throwback war movie. Separately, most of these dynamics might have worked, but when they’re mashed together, it’s never clear what The Monuments Men is trying to be.
What Could Have Been: Despite its downfalls, The Monuments Men does have brief moments of promise. Murray and Balaban make a perfect, standout pair exercising a classic trope: Murray’s character is comical and light. Balaban’s is uptight and stressed. They bicker constantly, but also go to extra lengths to make each other happy. A standout scene involves Balaban playing a message from home for Murray, who then breaks down. It’s heartfelt and beautiful, and it’s a tender reminder of how wonderful this film could have been. Perhaps the best thing to come out of The Monuments Men is the hope that Murray and Balaban could make a hilarious and sweet buddy comedy.
Overall: The Monuments Men isn’t a terrible film. It’s mediocre. But it could have been amazing, and that’s what frustrates me. This movie had everything going for it, but all that potential went to waste. Sometimes that’s worse than simply being awful.