Three-fourths of the way through The Monuments Men, I leaned towards my wife and whispered, “I fucking hate this movie.” Those are strong words, but that’s how much it irritated me. On paper it sounds amazing. The true story that it’s based on is fascinating and is better told in the superior documentary The Rape of Europa (now streaming on Netflix).
A failed artist/evil dictator and his Nazi goons steal and stash a ridiculous amount of Europe’s greatest artistic masterpieces with a dream to build a super museum (Führermuseum). An unlikely group of museum directors, curators and art historians are assembled to retrieve the stolen goods. It’s essentially a treasure hunt led by George Clooney, featuring an incredible cast including thee Bill Murray, Mr. John Goodman, and Academy Award winners Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon, and Jean Dujardin. Doesn’t that sound like a great movie? I thought so. I’m a big fan of the starring cast and I was looking forward to The Monuments Men, but unfortunately it’s a monumental mess.
The grossest error is the score. The overly-sentimental music is leading, telling the audience how to feel at every moment, often screaming at us. It’s cliche, the kind of sappy score you’ve heard a thousand times, in a thousand wannabe Oscar movies. I found it intrusive and I don’t think it set the right tone.
The script is bad too. Most of the jokes fall flat. Every now and then one hits, but there are far too many duds. There’s also an identity crisis at hand. The Monuments Men wants to be fun, funny, and serious, but it’s none of those things. It’s hard to be light and laugh at the jokes when the dramatic score is interrupting every few minutes. Mixing comedy and war/Holocaust themes is a nearly impossible balance and Clooney is no Roberto Benigni. Life is Beautiful is a rare example of finding the sweet spot.
The Monuments Men is slow, and I don’t mind slow movies, but it’s also boring and it doesn’t ring true. The characters don’t feel authentic, they’re more like caricatures. Not in a fun, intentional way like the soldiers in Inglourious Basterds, but in a hollow, I-can’t-do-anything-with-this-crappy-script kind of way. It always feels like they are actors acting, and I think the big stars and recognizable faces actually work against the movie in this case. When I look at Bill Murray I don’t see his character Richard Campbell I see Bill Murray, and I don’t see Walter Garfield I see John Goodman playing Walter Garfield. As much as I like them, actors with a little less star presence may have been a better fit. Then again, if the script was on point and a better tone was established, they probably would’ve knocked it out of the park.
Another gripe I have is that everybody always looks very clean. They’re in the middle of a war, ash everywhere, their clothes are perfectly clean and pressed, and none of them ever have any dirt on their faces. Lacks authenticity and it feels like dress up.
I never felt invested in the characters and that made it hard to take the ride. It didn’t help that the story is disjointed and moves around without much explanation as to what exactly is going on. On my way out of the theater I heard some people say they were confused. The audience knows that the goal is to retrieve the valuable art, but the missions within the overall goal aren’t explicitly detailed. It feels like there’s a lot of waiting around and the movie takes forever to get where it’s going.
There were some missed opportunities. I craved more art. I wanted to see more of the beautiful masterpieces and hear the stories behind them and the families they were stolen from. The Nazi’s threats to burn and destroy the artwork would’ve felt more potent if the filmmakers had developed the audience’s understanding for why the art is important. Don’t just tell me it’s a masterpiece, tell me why it’s a masterpiece and show me what makes it significant. Make the threat of loss or damage count, that way when the art is set on fire or destroyed it actually means something.
Clooney picked a great story to tell, but unfortunately he did a crap job telling it. As a director he lacks panache and in this case I think he would’ve been better off deferring to someone with a little more style. The Rape of Europa is a more informational and entertaining telling of the story, and if it has less laughs, it’s because it’s not trying to get them. Skip The Monument’s Men and watch that instead.
I rate this film 2 out of 5 Nerdskulls.
Essential Viewing: The Rape of Europa, Inglourious Basterds, Life is Beautiful, The Dirty Dozen
For a different perspective, check out Bobby’s review:
Check out the trailer for The Monuments Men:
Check out the trailer for The Rape of Europa below:
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