THE MONUMENTS MEN
BY CHRISTOPHER HASKELL
MAY 17, 2014
On the surface, “The Monuments Men” looks like an Oscar-worthy World War II drama. Directed by George Clooney, he has already proven to be a successful director on previous films like “Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind,” “The Ides Of March,” and the Academy Award-nominated “Good Night, and Good Luck.” Along with an impressive ensemble cast, including himself (Clooney), Matt Damon, John Goodman, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, and Jean Dujardin, the deck was stacked to make this film fall in line with great war dramas like “Saving Private Ryan” and even “Schindler’s List.” Instead, “The Monuments Men” is a bit of a misstep, remaining a mostly forgettable and tonally challenged plod that offers little in terms of a directorial follow-up to Clooney’s previous work. Based on the unique true story of the men assigned to save important works of art and literature from being destroyed by Hitler and the Nazi party during World War II, the narrative, and the interest that comes along with it writes itself. But the creators take no steps further than that general narrative, offering little expansion with zero memorable dialogue and a shell of actual emotion for the characters and their survival.
Also, there is a tonal shift throughout the entire film, which was apparent from its marketing, landing somewhere between a heartfelt dramatic period piece and a dark comedy, whereas it should have chosen one tone and ran with it. John Goodman and Bill Murray, mostly known for comedic performances, are huge catalysts in that shift, as their dry humor muddies up the moods while they find themselves in gunfights and high tension sequences, diffusing any suspense that had been built. Although I have not seen “Leatherheads,” the same criticism could be said for the marketing of that film and my feelings towards it, which begs the question of whether Clooney brings that tonal shifting dynamic out of his films. Clooney’s foray in this subject matter proves extremely average, offering very little for the audience to latch onto besides the recognizable faces and the unique subject matter. With no breakout performances and a screenplay reading like a history book, what you get lands with a thud. Not a failure by any means, but nothing that will land it any gold statues.
February 7, 2014
“The Monuments Men”
by Robert M. Edsel with Bret Witter
Sony Pictures Releasing
(for some images of war violence and historical smoking)