The Monuments Men


George Clooney continues his brave foray into the directing world with his World War II tale “The Monuments Men.” Based upon the real-life group assembled by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the movie follows an Allied group called the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Program, who are tasked with rescuing culturally significant works of art and other such items from Nazi Germany before they are destroyed by Hitler.

The Allied squad is made up of an incredible cast; Clooney, Matt DamonJohn GoodmanCate Blanchett, and even Bill Murray make an incredibly stable core for the movie’s historical plot. Some good makeup, costuming and acting make their characters living, breathing pictures of the war heroes we see in old-time black-and-white photographs. A decent score immerses us in the war time environment, and when all this is coupled with a story archetype of “men working together for a greater cause,” it seems the stars have aligned to bring a surefire winner at the box office.

It’s very telling when a movie of this scale (and perhaps historical significance) gets overwhelmed by a 100-minute commercial for building block toys. But that’s most likely because that movie was really, really fun to watch.

Columbia Pictures / Fox 2000 Pictures

Columbia Pictures / Fox 2000 Pictures

Even so, I don’t believe “The Monuments Men” would have performed to its potential had it been released the week before or after. It could also have been a fun film – think a WWII version of “Ocean’s Eleven” but with museum directors and art historians instead of suave Vegas sharks – but the movie has the glaring feeling that Clooney tried too hard to achieve that exact vision.

By pigeonholing the movie into something it wasn’t (the real Monuments Men were a lot more humble than the characters in the film), the result is a movie with little flexibility and little room to breathe, keeping it from growing into its own unique specimen. In turn, that’s something that doesn’t stand out in the theaters.

Columbia Pictures / Fox 2000 Pictures

Columbia Pictures / Fox 2000 Pictures

There’s no doubting the admirable goal of this movie to tell the story of ordinary folks who risked their lives to save priceless art. Especially in war time, the risk and danger are greater when these men know more about the lives and works of painters than how to use a gun. And as all the other elements fall into place – great cast, great score, great cinematography – “The Monuments Men” appears to have been done an injustice; it was made into a Hollywood-style action/drama instead of an emotional WWII survival story, as the story of the original Monuments Men suggests. The movie looks at history through some very rosy lenses.

Its purpose is noble and its intentions are good, but “The Monuments Men” fails to be the timeless piece of art that the movie constantly praises. It is not a terrible film in itself – I’d give Clooney an A for effort – but a certain emptiness and waste of potential sadly keeps the movie from being a film worth preserving for future generations.

This article originally appeared in Neon Tommy on February 9, 2014.

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