The Monuments Men
Columbia/Tri-Star // PG-13 // February 7, 2014
Review by Jeff Nelson | posted February 6, 2014
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Some films get their release dates pushed back for various reasons. However, it's never a good impression to make with moviegoers. Whether reshoots are required or post-production is taking longer than expected, it usually implies that the film has problems. In the case of The Monuments Men, it was because the special effects weren't entirely finished, so the filmmakers requested for more time and to have it released in February 2014 rather than December 2013. Columbia Pictures was clearly hoping to aim for award season, so I'm betting that they were a bit disappointed when they had to push the release date back. How did the filmmakers manage to achieve this? Well, you can do almost anything you want when George Clooney assumes writer/director/producer/actor roles for the film. Now that it will be hitting theaters nationwide on Friday, fans of Clooney and his co-stars can only hope that viewers find this to be as good as the talent involved implies. Unfortunately, I was left feeling underwhelmed and disappointed.

During World War II, numerous buildings, bridges, and art pieces were destroyed amongst the combat. Hitler (James Payton) stole the most renowned art pieces in the world in order to create his own grand museum. Frank Stokes (George Clooney) convinces his superiors to organize an unlikely World War II platoon with various men to rescue art masterpieces from the Nazi thieves and return them to their owners. For if Hitler takes or destroys all of the art, then nothing will be left of our history, nor our culture. The team divides in order to pursue different cities with various art pieces and stop Hitler's target on art at all costs.

We have all seen our fair share of World War II motion pictures, so what makes this any different? Well, it isn't necessarily a perspective from the war itself, but a completely different division. The Monuments Men are rarely mentioned for their heroic acts to save our art, culture, and accomplishments. The idea behind The Monuments Men is crucial, but the execution should have been much better. The screenplay was written by George Clooney and Grant Heslov, which often falls flat. While I understand that they wanted to maintain focus on the mission, the men themselves should be held to a higher importance than how they are portrayed. We learn very little about any of them, making it difficult to truly connect with them as people. While we admire and support the mission itself, the men should have felt like more than paper cut-outs. The first act feels quite mediocre, as it simply follows Frank Stokes as he tries to convince the higher-ups to allow him to task the mission, as well as create the team itself. And cue the assembling montage.

It's clear that Clooney and Heslov didn't want this to be a dark and serious depiction of this time in our history. While there's quite a bit of drama and some hints of action, they incorporated some humor from the start. This all relies on the dialogue, as nothing can be made humorous about the situation that these soldiers found themselves in. However, the humor feels as forced as the montage that we saw earlier. It might get a chuckle or two out of you for the duration of the running time, but that's about it. Perhaps this would have been a more successful representation of this story if they put more focus on the men and what they went through for the world and the cultures that it could have lost. Once the film kicks into high gear, it gets a little bit better. This is when we're finally able to see some form of bond forming between some of the men. Even though this isn't focused on for very long, it's nice when we're able to find hints of it.

After reading that, you must think that I absolutely hated The Monuments Men. Well, I don't. The film has its redeeming values, even if there aren't very many of them. Without a doubt, the strongest segment of the feature is between James Granger (Matt Damon) and Claire Simone (Cate Blanchett), as Granger is trying to discover where the shipments have been taken by the spy named Claire Simone. She doesn't trust him, as she believes that he will simply take all of the artwork back home to America. However, we're able to see a friendship develop that is most likely the most genuine thing to be found here. This is when the film actually takes its time to develop characters and their relationships with the people around them. The dialogue also improves over time, as writers George Clooney and Grant Heslov have some pretty well-written scenes towards the end of the mission. It's just a shame that these shining moments couldn't have expanded to cover the remainder of the film.

The Monuments Men has an enormous cast filled with top-notch actors. Just looking at all of those big names on the poster will draw in some audiences. However, the material doesn't allow many of them to work with very much of their skills. George Clooney is fine as Frank Stokes, but I have never been a huge fan of films where the director casts themselves in the main role. I was very aware that I was watching Clooney the entire time. Matt Damon is quite convincing in the role of James Granger. Perhaps the fact that his material was better than most of the cast also helped with this, but he made this character the easiest to connect with out of this group of men. Cate Blanchett delivers the strongest performance out of anybody in the entire film as Claire Simone. She pulls off a believable French woman, who delivers yet another dynamic performance that takes her scenes to another level that the screenplay simply couldn't achieve. The Monuments Men also includes Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Hugh Bonneville, and the list goes on. However, most of them don't have the chance to do very much.

Since George Clooney's newest picture takes place during World War II, this called for a huge effort when it came to the visuals, costuming, and hair/make-up. The visuals most certainly rise to the challenge, as the environments feel as if we've been placed right in the middle of this mission. The costumes are impeccable, as are the hair/make-up. This film isn't meant to have many explosions or gun fights, but it achieves great visuals through more subtle means. However, even the few moments of action look and sound absolutely fantastic. There aren't any complaints to be said in this department.

This is proof that even having a marvelous cast and crew doesn't necessarily mean that the film will be great. Writers George Clooney and Grant Heslov focused on the mission without giving very much attention to the men themselves. This is a huge mistake, as audiences will be left without characters to connect with. The dialogue itself is hit-and-miss, especially with the poor attempts at making us laugh. While this is a crucial story to be told, it's unfortunate that Clooney could only deliver a forced and, ultimately, disappointing representation of this time in our history. The film has its moments, but they're few and far apart. There is absolutely nothing monumental about The Monuments Men other than the story in which it was based upon. Rent it.

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