fri 14/06/2024

The Monuments Men | reviews, news & interviews

The Monuments Men

The Monuments Men

George Clooney’s tribute to those who saved art from the Nazis is slick, beautiful and drab

Dimitri Leonidas, John Goodman, George Clooney, Matt Damon and Bob Balaban look for a spot of suspense in The Monuments MenClaudette Barius

The Nazi war machine had great taste: it wanted all of the world’s art treasure for itself. Someone had to stop them .Based on Robert M Edsel’s book, George Clooney and Grant Heslov’s screenplay takes a starry stab at telling a culturally serious World War Two story. Shot in both the UK and Germany, its moral values are high, but this tasteful war heist/thriller hits the ground flat-footed and doesn't get better.

The story is cast with Clooney and, it seems, a handful of his friends who play art experts. After going through basic training with real ammunition, the slick seven land in Normandy in July 1944, working their way through Europe to stop the Nazis dragging all their plunder back to Hitler. This means 118 minutes of bitsy banter between Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Cate Blanchett, Jean Dujardin, Hugh Bonneville, Bob Balaban and Dimitri Leonidas. This is not all bad, but the gags and set pieces don’t further the straightforward story: Nazis have the world’s art. It’s pretty important. Can Frank Stokes (Clooney) and chums get it back? Will anyone die? Ah, but I get ahead of myself.

The opening scene is upsetting enough: two filthy Nazis are slavering over the art they thieved and planning which of their sofas it should be hung above. Meanwhile, prim art secretary-person Claire Simone (Blanchett) looks on disapprovingly. After they escape, she is imprisoned as a collaborator. Simone is pretty much the only woman in the whole film – unless you count Leonardo da Vinci’s Madonna and Child, Dujardin’s character’s wife, a lady who doesn’t get any counter service or Bonneville’s silent pub date. Even the horse that Dujardin offers a cigarette to is a male. (From the outset, you know who “won’t make the trip” as surely as if those actors wore the dreaded red jersey in Star Trek. Spoiler alert: come to think of it, the two men who know *actual visible women* don't fare at all well. Deeper meanings or just trying to get the audience to care?)

Never mind: women fought bravely, we know that from other films, as surely as we know John Wayne didn’t win World War Two all by himself. It wasn’t only Americans wresting art from Nazi claws either. But in the sequences that work, this is the case – notably Murray’s bad tooth leading Balaban to a key Nazi source. This scene works incredibly well, thanks to Balaban’s serious air and Murray just looking ridiculous holding a pistol.

As disappointing as The Monuments Men is, it is historically important. Lives are not, as Stokes points out as least three times, the only victims of war. Art, the remnants of people and their culture, is an ode to those lives - and while it is always fun to see Goodman duck bullets or Damon be wholesomely alluring. Alas, they're in a film about genocide and culture devastation made without suspense, surprise or excitement.

But if you see The Monuments Men, make sure to notice the good work done by so many talented people to shine up and support a limp, illogical script.

  • Overleaf: watch the trailer to The Monuments Men
From the outset, you know who 'won’t make the trip' as surely as if those actors wore the dreaded red jersey in Star Trek.


Editor Rating: 
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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