George Clooney's latest film, The Monuments Men, sets out to tell the little-told true story of a group of ageing American soldiers (and a French dude) whose mission it was to recover as many precious art pieces as possible from the nazis who had stolen them from all over an occupied France.
The film opens by giving us some background and Clooney's lieutenant is soon off to gather his team of all-stars including Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban and Hugh Boneville... together at last! After a promising Indiana Jones-esque first few minutes involving Cate Blanchett's cartoonish French (at least I think that's what she was going for) spy, the film's tone switches to something more akin to Stripes or the MASH TV series before occasionally dipping back into serious mode. Clooney clearly wanted to even out the film by putting in a sad, emotional moment for every jokey, light-hearted scene, Disney-style, but, after watching The Monuments Men, it's obvious that the director/actor should have picked a tone and stuck with it. Say what you will about that other, kinda dull wartime-set Clooney/Blanchett flick The Good German, at least it was relatively consistent tone-wise (creepy sex scene aside). The mission these guys are sent on is, certainly, an unusual one but the film translates "unusual" as "wacky" and the team is portrayed as a mismatched group of goofballs, something which doesn't really get with everything else. The setting at hand is a real one and the story being told is definitely a historically interesting, worth-telling one but nothing about this movie feels true and real, except for its intentions.
The Monuments Men is certainly well-meaning and it, admittedly, has its occasionally charming little moments. Its message is simple and understood very early on so the fact that the film is this long and this slow paced is frankly a mistake. There's next to no action here, except for a couple of run-ins with nazis when the group is split up. Mostly, something's about to happen but, instead of something happening, we get a character stopping the movie in its tracks to tell his boring life story. The build-up is perky enough that you genuinely want to follow this team on their adventure but soon enough, you realise that there isn't much of an adventure there, or at least in the way the film approaches it all. There was definitely a lot of potential here, especially with the huge comic talent present, but these great actors are given very little to work with and, ultimately, it all feels like a missed opportunity. Perhaps Clooney should have gone the Inglourious Basterds route and given us something a little more drastic and silly but more intense and memorable, like propaganda-xploitation! Hell, he should have handed the project over to Robert Rodriguez and called it a day. Then, the story of these guys would have at least stuck in our minds because, as it stands, no one will remember this movie a month from now. Hiring the likes of Murray and Dujardin and not allowing them to be funny truly is the film's biggest crime. With Blanchett's hilarious accent a close second. Can you believe everyone in this movie makes fun of Matt Damon's bad French when Blanchett's Inspector Clouseau tones are totally accepted as the real deal?
It is honestly surprising that Clooney, a usually very solid director, made this movie seeing as the direction and the writing are as below-par as they are. The terrific cast should give you a chuckle here and there and the real-life story is compelling enough that you'll enjoy following some of it but, as a whole, this is a cheesy, not very funny, not very involving, flat movie that certainly means well and which is relatively harmless but which could (and should) have been so much more.
Read a WWII history book.
Far more rewarding.