The Monuments Men – Film Review – 2014 – Film Dispenser

Film February 8, 2014 Scott Phillips
Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every Fall.

“Monuments Men” Squanders All-Star Cast with Bland Storytelling

The Monuments Men, the new film directed by George Clooney, isn’t as bad as the savage reviews it’s been receiving. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s a particularly good film. It seeks to channel some of the star-powered patriotic films from the Golden Age of Hollywood. Instead, it will leave you scratching your head, wondering how so much talent produced such a bland film.

The set-up is simple. It is 1944, and the Allies are taking control of the European theater of combat in the waning months of World War II. The German army has adopted a scorched Earth policy in its defeat, leveling cities and towns as they retreat from the advancing Allied forces. Frank Stokes (George Clooney) approaches the President to commission a small task force that will enter Europe and attempt to protect the irreplaceable works of art and cultural artifacts that are being stolen and destroyed by the Germans.

Stokes assembles a team of “experts” to accompany him to Europe and carry out his mission. This group of middle-aged men must complete a shortened version of basic training and then infiltrate Europe as the war is winding down. Although the German army is on the run, their mission is not without danger. Ragtag squads of German soldiers still roam the European countryside.

After establishing an intriguing premise, The Monuments Men devolves into a series of loosely connected vignettes, both comedic and somber, that fail to establish a consistent tone for the film. Is this supposed to be a jaunty World War II caper film from the 1960s? Or is it supposed to be a drama about war and loss? In the end, The Monuments Men is neither. The humor falls flat, yielding the occasional smile instead of actual laughs. Although there are a few scenes that work well, the drama is so manipulative that you begin to wonder how much they paid the brass section to play the endless trumpet swells that shamelessly try to pluck at your heartstrings.

The Monuments Men would be less disappointing if not for the heightened expectations that accompany the all-star cast: Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey), Jean Dujardin (The Artist) and Bob Balaban. And don’t forget, Cate Blanchett as a member of the French Resistance forced to work for the Nazi high command while secretly cataloguing the locations of countless artworks. Her character is the most interesting person on screen until the script forces her to be the obligatory love interest for Matt Damon’s art curator.

The screenplay is woefully underwritten, leaving such a stellar cast with little to do as they play undefined, vague characters that are readily interchangeable. If all these folks are such art experts, how come Clooney and Damon are the only ones who seem to know anything? There is no richness to the subject matter being presented. You have the entire history of modern culture at your fingertips, and the end result is … boring? The Monuments Men is a bit patronizing in its gravitas. These works of art are important. Why? Because we say so in several repetitive voiceovers.

There are a few moments that work exceptionally well. Bill Murray and Bob Balaban opening their care packages from home takes an interesting sentimental detour. And George Clooney delivers a compelling monologue while he’s interrogating a German commander near the end of the film that only serves to highlight how workmanlike and humdrum the surrounding scenes are. You’ll be thinking, Where has this been for the last 90 minutes?!

At this time of year, there are some genuinely bad films to be found at your local theater. February is the annual dumping ground for films that haven’t tested well or are contractually guaranteed a theatrical release even if they don’t merit one. The sheer star power of The Monuments Men will keep you reasonably entertained, but by the time you drive home and pay the babysitter, you will have forgotten it entirely.

Scott Phillips

The Movie Isle

Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for themovieisle.com. From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for filmdispenser.com. Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.

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