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Review: THE MONUMENTS MEN

George Clooney’s The Monuments Men is less Schindler’s List and more Kelly’s Heroes. This is a rollicking and almost innocent take on World War II that is safely without extreme violence or tragedy, focusing instead on the gee-whiz camaraderie of soldiers who seem to be on a warm Boy Scout outing than in the midst of an actual war. I suppose in a genre that is often loaded down with brutality, a little bit of genuine Hollywood schmaltz can perhaps be a welcome change of pace, provided you’re not making a piece of garbage like The Book Thief.

The Monuments Men, based on a book by Robert M. Edsel and Bret Witter, tells the true story of a team of international art scholars who were enlisted by the American army to search for millions upon millions of stolen art pieces that the Nazis had been deliberately plundering throughout the course of the war. Hitler, it turns out, had a grand scheme to open a great museum in Linz displaying the art the Nazis had outright stolen. It’s up to our brave mostly American boys (along with a Brit and a French guy) to suss out where the art may be, and to protect it.

Monuments Men Clooney and Damon

The team is made up of recognizable archetypes who – while played by notable and very good comic actors like John Goodman, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, Jean Dujardin, Hugh Bonneville, and Bob Balaban – never really transcend their clichés. They move as an amoeba-like unit, bantering lightly, more dramatically functional as a team than as interesting individual characters. Clooney is nothing if not affable, both as a performer and as a director, and man, oh, man is this ever an affable film. It has what so many films strive for and often lack: a general sense of good humor. You know those old WWII movies where soldiers huddle in foxholes, joking with each other to break the tension? Imagine a whole film of that.

Its good humor, sadly, is also what kind of neuters The Monuments Men as a meaningful drama. I admire the hard work the real-life soldiers had to do, and I adore seeing such a talented cast doing what they do best, but the film lacks any sort of intellectual or dramatic oomph. The screenplay rattles on endlessly about “protecting our culture,” but its enthusiasm for art never extends too far past the intellectual level of your public library’s “Read books! They’re cool!” poster. The film never stops to ponder the beauty of the art that the main characters are trying so hard to protect, acting instead as a teenage cheerleader who only did a little light reading beforehand.

Monuments Men Murray

This is Clooney’s fifth film as a director, and he seems to have found his niche. All of his films (The Ides of March notwithstanding) are wry, yet vaguely sentimental views of dear American institutions. Whether he’s exploring the origins of pro football, or delving into the wackier corners of television history, Clooney’s movies have been rooting around in nostalgia. His films tend to have a slight intellectual edge to them – no one can accuse him of trying to emulate sentimental masters like Spielberg or Zemeckis – but they are, at the end of the day, very safe movies about halcyon bygone eras. He’s very good at what he does, but I hope Clooney will one day recapture the naughtiness and darkness of his debut feature Confessions of a Dangerous Mind rather than gathering his most talented buddies and makin’ a movie.

Rating: 3 Burritos
3 burritos

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5 comments

  • “…delving into the wackier corners of television history, Clooney’s movies have been rooting around in nostalgia.”
    I’m sorry, did you actually watch Good Night and Good Luck?
    Edward R. Murrow is not one of the “wackier corners of television history.” He is one of the few people who critically questioned Joseph McCarthy’s rampage of “Red Scare” tactics and Murrow was one of the first to utilize his television show to point this out. And Good Night and Good Luck explored that aspect of Murrow’s life quite well (my opinion).

  • As a very sentimental person, this movie was the perfect example of something that I know is not technically impressive or even very good, but I just like it anyway. It’s incredibly easy to watch. Sometimes you don’t WANT to be overcome with emotion; my wife’s about to have a baby, and with everything going on I’m gradually beginning to get the appeal of lightweight mainstream fair.

  • I liked the film. It told a story I knew little about. It did not romanticize war but put it in its proper place: not always right; not always wrong. It told a story of courage and loss for something bigger than self.