The Monuments Men
This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 9th March 2014
George Clooney is a terrific actor who has successfully branched out into directing and producing a raft of terrific movies, often casting his pals while still managing to direct challenging performances out of them.
But with The Monuments Men he either set the bar too high or simply didn’t think he needed to jump. Drenched as it is with a supreme cast (albeit mostly male but for Cate Blanchett’s token French resistance fighter), this true life tale of the American military wading into a subset of World War II in order to save prized European artworks had megahit stamped all over it. Astonishingly, despite its promising credentials, it manages to bore and disappoint.
One viewer’s “rushed” is another’s “economical” as we’re plunged into the story before the opening credits are over. Clooney’s Lieutenant pleads with President Roosevelt to let him take a crack team of ex-military art lovers to Nazi-infested Europe, where the enemy is methodically stealing and destroying the cornerstone of the world’s culture. Amidst lots of expository dialogue (Clooney himself spends much screen-time telling his men things that are purely for the audience’s benefit), Damon, John Goodman and Bill Murray (even Bill Murray is in it!) are joined by Frenchman Jean Dujardin (The Artist) and Downton Abbey’s Hugh Bonneville as Clooney’s Seven tiki-tour across Europe on their mission. There they encounter a sour-faced Blanchett who acts like she wants to swap her Oscars for a cameo in ‘Allo ‘Allo, as the tone switches between limply unfunny (overcooked gags about Damon’s poorly spoken French) and actually-people-died-you-know moments of “pathos”.
While the fast pace presumes to disguise the lack of substance, you still have to keep your ears pricked for plot developments, if you can hear over the unnecessarily pompous “America at War” soundtrack (a disappointed thumbs-down from this reviewer to composer Alexandre Desplat).
Granted, some scenes look like the original Indiana Jones and fun may be had initially from watching the cast pal about (Gosford Park’s underappreciated Bob Balaban is a standout), but for most of its running time The Monuments Men is a massive misfire.