Monday, 17 March 2014

Film Review: The Monuments Men

Directed by and starring everybody's favourite silver fox, George Clooney, The Monuments Men is a drama/comedy/war epic about a team of art experts who are tasked with preserving timeless cultural items from the fast-retreating Nazis in the final few months of World War II. 

The film also stars Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett and Hugh Bonneville (amongst other big names). So, with a cast so likeable and talented, what could possibly go wrong?

Set in the final years of World War II (things kick off around the aftermath of D-Day), The Monuments Men follows Frank Stout (Clooney), the leader of an unlikely band of brothers (heh) who have been tasked by President Roosevelt to infiltrate Europe and preserve classic works of art that Hitler threatens to destroy or steal.

The team of art nerds includes Granger (Matt Damon, Bourne series), Campbell (Bill Murray, Ghostbusters), Garfield (John Goodman, Argo), Jean-Claude (Jean Dujardin, The Artist), Savitz (Bob Baliban, Capote) and Jeffries (Hugh Bonneville, Downton Abbey), a sort of art history major Avengers if you will.

The films plot follows the men through their mission (which is based on a true story), as they weave across Europe, following the ruins left behind by the front-line and searching for the cherished art pieces the Nazis threaten to erase from our collective human history.

The premise is a solid one, to say the least. I liked the sound of a WWII-set drama flecked with comedy aspects that brought together a big cast with mixed backgrounds and talents. The only thing is, these elements never really combine to create anything particularly memorable.

The biggest complaint I have with this film is that the characters are each written very thinly - Clooney's character for example, is given some of the weakest drive or motivation going. I think he mentions (and the audience glimpses) his wife and kids back in 'Murica a grand total of once throughout the whole film.

The same can be said of Damon's character, or any of the team. Cate Blanchett's character particularly is odd, as she shares a semi-love plot with Damon, which goes nowhere.

I also felt that the film really struggled to nail a consistent tone - for example, there were moments of tragedy and loss, (which in themselves were a little flat given our lack of investment with the characters), but these moments were also punctuated with levity and wisecracks.

At one point, Matt Damon's character gets caught stood on a landmine. Rather than make this out to be a horrific and terrifying experience, Damon's character simply quips and jokes until his mates figure out how to get him out of the situation. Oh Matt, always getting himself into these pickles.

So, the questions remains, is this a tonally serious drama (a la Band of Brothers) or a more tongue-in-cheek light-hearted film that aims to cash in on sentimentality? The whole film just felt tonally inconsistent, along with thinly written and narratively jumbled.

Some positives include the recreation of the period setting, and Bill Murray. Let's face it, Murray is always a hoot.

The Verdict: 5/10

The Monuments Men is entertaining enough on the surface, but when you look a little closer, you'll see that the plot is thin, the characters weak and the script flat. Clooney is charming, Murray and Goodman inject a chuckle or two, but this film is surprising unmemorable given the degree of acting talent that signed on.

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