Over the last couple of years there has been an increase in Hollywood taking an interest in star-studded history pieces. Due to the financial and critical success of 2012’s Argo, The Monuments Men has decided to showcase history as well but this time with a certain Ocean’s Eleven charm to it. In this World War II era film, George Clooney and his new band of misfits are assigned to protect whatever monuments might be in danger of being stolen or destroyed by the Nazis in Western Europe. Clooney’s character Lt. Frank Stokes convinces President Roosevelt that the victory over this war will not mean anything if Hitler manages to successfully “destroy a generation’s culture, it is as if they never existed…and that is the one thing we cannot allow”.
Where The Monuments Men movie succeeds is in its cast. You have George Clooney (Ocean’s Eleven) as the charismatic leading man, Matt Damon (The Bourne Identity) as Clooney’s right hand man, John Goodman (The Big Lebowski), Bill Murray (Ghost Busters), Jean Dujardin (The Artist), Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey) and Cate Blanchett (Lord of the Rings). All these actors are veterans who can do drama mixed with comedy with their eyes closed.
This movie does not have archetypical characters you might find in war movies, such as hell-bent soldiers, but instead it is full of middle-aged architects, teachers, sculptors and designers. This of course leads to some comic relief as you see out-of-shape men going through basic training that even young men would struggle through. With such an unusual premise with unusual characters, you need to have an army of actors who can pull this off without coming across as cheesy or unrealistic.
In terms of the plot, that is where the movie never finds its feet. The premise is intriguing enough and certainly made for an interesting trailer, but it is nothing groundbreaking. Dealing with such a sensitive subject such as World War II and the Nazis, one would think this movie would be filled with intense scenes of suspense. Whereas Argo could muster moments of nail-biting tension without a need for bullets flying through the air, The Monuments Men makes war seem as easy and breezy as Ocean’s Eleven made robbing a bank. There should have been a better balance of comedy and drama, but unfortunately the comedy is the centerpiece and the World War II drama is just there to justify the huge budget.
George Clooney is however competent behind the camera as a director. The production value and cinematography manages to recreate the atmosphere and distinctive look of 1940’s Western Europe. It is surprising that Clooney would want to take such a serious subject such as World War II and the annihilation of a civilization and focus more on the comedy. He has been able to make films regarding history and politics, such as Good Night and Good Luck (2005) and Ides of March (2011), and delivered staggering suspense. Perhaps it was a conscious decision to stir away from the drama, but it seems like a wasted opportunity as Clooney could have used the skills he learned from making those previous films and turned this into his Saving Private Ryan.
It is by no means fascinating, but it will entertain mass audiences. It is definitely geared towards casual movie goers rather than film and history buffs as it does not dwell in any ambiguity. It is straightforward and simple: USA good, Nazis bad. That is as developed as these characters will get. For those who enjoyed Argo’s sense of historical drama and those who enjoyed Ocean’s Eleven’s sense of adventure, then The Monuments Men is a perfectly adequate popcorn flick.
Opinion By Ignacio Gatti