Rated PG-13 for images of war violence and historical smoking
Written by George Clooney, Grant Heslov, and more
Directed by George Clooney
Starring George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, John Goodman and more
If George Clooney wanted these men to be remembered, this wasn't the way to do it.
"The Monuments Men," based on the true story of a group of academics who saved art from the Nazis during WWII, commits the unpardonable sin of making a potentially great story sound frightfully dull. The movie is so concerned about the historical record and pro-art preaching that it turns into a visual essay, reducing the characters to mere sketches and wasting the potential for drama. It's perfectly fine to be told that these men thought art was worth fighting for, but I wanted to feel it.
Even worse, director (and co-script writer) George Clooney wasted a ton of potential. The cast, which also features Matt Damon and Bill Murray, led hopeful audience members to imagine a classier "Ocean's Eleven." The story had all the right elements for any number of epics – last-shot redemption, repressed romantic feelings, the tragedy of war, comedy routines with the occasional threat of death – and if Clooney had been able to focus on any of them he likely would have had a gripping movie on our hands.
But he never does. We never hear back stories for most of the men, and though there is occasional mentions of wives and children we never spend any real time with them. We never see what made these men fall in love with art in the first place, or feel crazy enough to say yes to a mission that many were certain was destined to fail. We never saw the frustration that comes when no one else seems to care about the thing you're working so hard to save.
Sometimes, the cast managed to fight the script long enough to bring something real to life. Cate Blanchett layered Claire Simone with pain, anger and secrets, hinting at a complicated back story that the script barely touched on. Bob Balaban was a delight as one of the academics, balancing dry humor and brittle anger in a way that was both believable and entertaining. John Goodman, playing another academic, nearly redeemed a failed emotional moment simply through the quiet grief on his face.
Mostly, though, we ended up with a history lesson. It's clear how much Clooney cares about art, an attitude I share completely, and it's admirable that he wanted to celebrate the masterpieces these men loved so much. I would have liked it better, however, if he'd tried harder to celebrate the men themselves.
To see what Clipper Online Editor Dan Metcalf thought of The Monuments Men, click here.