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The Monuments Men (2014)
A Monument to Mediocrity
The Monuments Men fictionalizes the true life adventures of a team of artists, art historians and curators who are drafted and "tasked" (not my term but screenwriter/director/star George Clooney's)to find and recover thousands of art treasures looted by the Nazis. War,larceny and an opportunity to right wrong on a scale unprecedented in history should provide for a spell binding viewing experience. Then why was I not spellbound?
Casting is always a delicate proposition. With the quizzical casting of George Clooney, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray and John Goodman in the major roles, one is left wondering how this will work. It doesn't. George Clooney, the group's leader and film director, is obviously too busy behind the camera to exhibit much on screen leadership and is therefore relegated to phoning in (literally) his role. Matt Damon, known for his powerhouse parts and some pretty good acting skills, is cast against type. That's okay, if given something to work with, which he isn't. Well Bill Murray is always good for a laugh. Oh right, this isn't a comedy. No matter, lets write some scenes specifically for him. Painful. And poor John Goodman is left lumbering his way through a nondescript part.
Cate Blanchett's role is by far the one with the most potential. But this is Monuments Men, not Monuments Women. Based on the true life character of Rose Valland, Gallerie Jue De Paume caretaker during the Nazi occupation, the character of Claire Simone (Ms. Valland) is written as a mean spirited, untrusting spinster who comes on to Matt Damon's character out of nowhere. But Damon's character is too vanilla to have any of that. Thankfully, Mr. Clooney does include some of Ms. Valland's indispensable part in recovering the Nazi loot.
It is understood these men are scholars, artisans, art businessmen and as such, are not the stuff of action heroes. But at least give them some dialog of weight. We never get the sense that these men are subject matter experts but some guys with a passing knowledge of great art.
In the end, treat an important historical event importantly, even if it is fictionalized. In the 1964 fictional epic "The Train" the French Underground attempts to stop a Nazi train filled with Impressionist Art stolen from the Jue de Paume. Actors of weight are cast - Burt Lancaster and Paul Scofield. John Frankenheimer and Arthur Penn direct. Taut screen writing prevails with dialog that conveys the importance of the character's endeavors ("Save the heritage of France"). There's little to none of that in The Monuments Men.
Apparently, they don't make 'em like that anymore.