Based on the true story of the greatest treasure hunt in history, The Monuments Men is an action drama focusing on an unlikely World War II platoon, tasked by FDR with going into Germany to rescue artistic masterpieces from Nazi thieves and returning them to their rightful owners. It would be an impossible mission: with the art trapped behind enemy lines, and with the German army under orders to destroy everything as the Reich fell, how could these guys - seven museum directors, curators, and art historians, all more familiar with Michelangelo than the M-1 - possibly hope to succeed? But as the Monuments Men, as they were called, found themselves in a race against time to avoid the destruction of 1000 years of culture, they would risk their lives to protect and defend mankind's greatest achievements.Written by
Sony Pictures Entertainment
In bringing together elements from Inglourious Basterds, Ocean's Eleven and Museum Hours, George Clooney certainly had plenty of opportunity for a rich and interesting story. War heroes who appreciate fine art played by the likes of Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray and John Goodman (plus a few "that guy"s), attempting to steal back priceless works of art from the Nazis, it sounds amazing.
So what went wrong? Well, to begin with, for a movie about a team, we're given very little time with them as a group. Almost immediately they pair off on their own little adventures. Instead of using these exploits to let us know a little more about the characters as individuals, we get the usual oddball pairings and some mildly amusing, but ultimately hollow, vignettes. Even when we lose some of our team, it really feels like nothing more than just something that happened on the trip, like "oh, and I also saw a horse." We have hardly any sense of them as a group and far less about them as people. The only character whose motivations we can understand is the one played by Cate Blanchett, but her limited chemistry with Matt Damon dooms what little redemptive quality her character had.
Also, and particularly troubling for a movie involving art, George Clooney's lens has little reverence for the work it shows. Though the film heavy-handedly ponders whether a piece of art is worth a human life, the camera never does. Even when a character lays down his life for a sculpture, it comes off less dramatic than inevitable. The film treats the works as being mostly historically significant and never finds that lover's gaze that tells the audience why.
What we're left with is a bag of spare parts. It's a popcorn movie with no setpieces. A war movie with no battles. A heist movie with no scheming. An art movie with no inspiration. Were they to have found some of Inglourious Basterds' bluster, Ocean's Eleven smarts or Museum Hour's insight, they may have found a formula that works, but that's not the movie we have here. I'll be damned if George Clooney doesn't look good in a moustache, though.
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