George Clooney writes, directs, produces, executive produces and stars in his brain child The Monuments Men.
The Monuments Men is a historical narrative about the World War II platoon charged with recapturing and conserving art masterpieces in Europe and based on a true story authored in the titular novel by Robert M. Edsel.
A scholar named Frank Stokes, played by George Clooney, rallies for the chance to save famous artwork dating back to the Renaissance in the midst of a Nazi war zone. He enlists and entrusts the most qualified curators, played by: Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Hugh Bonneville and Bob Balaban. Along the way the monuments men get assistance from a French member of the resistance played by Cate Blanchett and German speaking American soldier played by Dimitri Leonidas.
The premise of this film is promising and an original perspective on WWII cinema. Art is society’s most prized cultural possession, a lineage of our history through hundreds and thousands of years. Its preservation over such a time is an achievement unto itself. The cast of actors elevates the potential of The Monuments Men to boundless heights yet it falls abysmally flat.
I was incredibly excited for this movie when the trailer was released – but then the film faded away almost immediately after its debut. I now know why: while not bad, The Monuments Men is certainly not good. Everything about this movie is wrong, from the casting, tone, directing, screenplay and music.
There is no plot structure within the dialogue laid out in the screenplay. Seven main characters and no structure is a recipe for disaster and The Monuments Men is confusing and fragmented. The film tries to anchor its plot to locating and securing Michalangelo’s Madonna and child and Van Eyck’s Ghent altarpiece. Unfortunately that is not enough when the lead characters break off into teams of two after thirty minutes and the plot scatters accordingly.
Clooney’s direction shows a lack of vision and inability to maintain a consistent tone throughout the film. At first it The Monuments Men a pseudo-MASH/Ocean’s Eleven ragtag comedy. Fifteen minutes into the film and the tone flops to a somber historical drama. With the music concurrently changing from cheesy patriotic brass propaganda to overly melancholic instrumentals.
The cast is sublime on their own, but with this poor script and direction only exacerbates the confusion and lack of clarity. If this film had committed completely to being a comedic interpretation of the novel then The Monuments Men may have succeeded. Clooney instead just produces a film that is historically flimsy, disjointed, disengaging.