The Monuments Men appears to be a labor of love for George Clooney, who co-wrote, produced, directed and starred in this World War II adventure. Unfortunately, that love doesn’t trickle down to the audience, since the movie doesn’t quite seem to know what it wants to be. It runs for almost two hours, yet it never hits its stride.
I was very intrigued by the premise of a crew of academics, curators and historians scrambling to save priceless works of art from the Nazis. The film is packed with star power from the likes of actors Bill Murray, John Goodman, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Bob Balaban, Jean Dujardin and Hugh Bonneville, so I had high expectations. With that much talent, it should be an almost surefire formula for success.
Unfortunately, a strong premise and cast doesn’t always mean a great end product, and The Monuments Men is a classic example of a movie that never really finds its identity. Does it want to be an Indiana Jones-style epic? Does it seek to follow in the footsteps of war movie classics from years gone by that starred the likes of Steve McQueen and Clint Eastwood? Does it want to be an Ocean’s Eleven-style caper flick with a dose of comedy? It never really decides on a solid, consistent course, so that keeps it from being as enjoyable as it might have been.
A Gloomy Canvas
You’d expect a movie about artwork to be visually stunning, but this was another area in which I felt Clooney let the audience down. While Star Trek was known for its pervasive glare, The Monuments Men often has the opposite problem. The big screen is a canvas on which the movie makers could create a work of art as lively as many of the paintings the characters are trying to save from the Nazis. Unfortunately, the cinematography is gloomy and dark for much of the film.
Clooney himself apparently knew this movie was in trouble. It was originally slated for release on Dec.18, 2013, but according to the Hollywood Reporter, he pushed the release date back, ostensibly to work on the special effects. That took it out of the running for 2013 awards. He told TheWrap.com that he was struggling with the tone and striking a balance between comic elements and the decidedly somber subject matter of Nazi thefts during World War II. Given the finished product, it seems as though he never quite hit the sweet spot.
The measure of how emotionally invested you are in a movie is the way you feel when a character you care about dies. Without giving any spoilers, I warn you that it happens in The Monuments Men. However, if you’re like me, I can assure you that you won’t feel the same depth of emotion that a movie like Saving Private Ryan or Schindler’s List inspires because you just don’t really care about the characters all that much. They never feel thoroughly developed, so it’s hard to mourn the loss of someone you don’t really get to know.
The film is adapted from the non-fiction book, The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert M. Edsel and Bret Witter. The book title promises adventure and intrigue that the movie can’t quite deliver.
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