After being delayed out of Oscar season, Monuments Men is making its way into theaters, and not to much warmth from either critics or audiences. Ever since the trailers for this film debuted, many seemed quite pessimistic about the project, with the trailer not selling many on this premise. Now with reviews out, many are basically writing the film off as a dud for all involved.
Walking into the film, hope was not lost for me. Director and star George Clooney has proven himself as a great talent. While he has done some great critically acclaimed works like Ides of March and Good Night and Good Luck; his most interesting project to me was always Leatherheads. An ode to the classic screwball comedies of the 1920’s, Leatherheads was panned by critics and ignored by audiences. Still, I found it to be a really clever and charming flick, that does not get any of the credit it deserves. In its own way, Monuments Men is very similar to Leatherheads, and I found it equally as enjoyable.
Monuments Men follows a team of art experts as they go on a deadly mission in the dangerous World War II European battleground. The plan; save the stolen artifacts of the war before Hitler and the Germans can destroy them.
George Clooney really does not get the credit he deserves for his direction. He has shown a consistent amount of skill and professionalism behind the chair, as he has made a wide variety of films like Leatherheads and the highly underrated Ides of March. At its core, Clooney makes Monuments Men an ode to the caper and war films of the 1960’s, while adding in his own touches to make it more accessible to the modern day audience.
Behind the chair, Clooney has a lot on his plate to manage with this film, and he does a solid enough job managing all of these characters and concepts. From giving each member of the ensemble cast their due, to knowing the precise moment to hit the audience with a comedic or dramatic moment, Clooney really manages most of the elements here very well. Also, he really does a nice job of keeping this movie consistent with that 1960’s energy and vibe, which can be tough to do at times.
As far as performances go, Monuments Men is essentially a greatest hit collection. The great ensemble cast here really do not stretch themselves, rather do what they’ve done well throughout their respected careers. George Clooney and Matt Damon play the straight men, while adding in their quick-wit and charm that they are beloved for. Bill Murray and John Goodman are two of the funniest actors alive, and they don’t disappoint here, having a few really great moments.
Perhaps the performance I enjoyed the most was Bob Balaban. Not really known for doing large-scaled films like this, it’s apparent from the start that Balaban is having a blast with his role. He injects a lot of personality and credibility into his role, and commands the screen whenever he is on. Other cast members like Jean Dujardin and Hugh Bonneville also add a lot of credibility to their roles.
The screenplay here is quite good. George Clooney and Grant Heslov always have collaborated together, and their latest is another well written script. As far as dialogue goes, there is a real snap to it here. A lot of the film’s best moments are when these characters are conversing, as there are quite a few great laughs in this film. Combined with the comedic talent of these actors and their comradery together, all of these bits feel very natural and work well.
Many have been calling out the film on its script about the characters, saying that they lack depth. Personally, that is a bit of an unfair criticism, because Monuments Men is essentially a film about the event and not as much about the characters. Also, there is character development here, but it is largely characters defined by action, rather than someone explaining their backstory. That was much appreciated, with most movies these days having to announce everything about their characters.
Monuments Men is the kind of movie that wears its heart on its sleeve. There are quite a few moments that really strike for pathos, and most of them actually work. Thanks largely to the naturalism of these characters and their great performances, most of these moments come together, and give this movie a real heart. The best of these moments are the smaller ones, including one little scene with Bill Murray and Bob Balaban that was perhaps the best scene in the film.
Perhaps what worried me most about the film walking in though was the theme. From the trailer, the film seemed like the theme was a bit basic and told in a very preach to the choir kind of way. The general theme of the importance of art is an important one, as many today seem to kind of just ignore it. Some subtle additions to the theme that really developed it are also added, like the lifelong affects of culture and the importance of continuing that long line of culture.
As a whole, Monuments Men is seriously lacking in a bit of grit. The film takes place in WWII, which was perhaps the most terrifying war that the world has faced. While some characters in the film get in danger, it feels like the level of danger about this war was not heightened enough. Showing the real grit and dirtiness to the war at points could have really added to the tension and danger this film tries to build up. As it stands, Monuments Men does not have much tension.
There are also a few noticeable technical flaws with the film. The editing here feels very much rough around the edges. Transitions from scene to scene are not nearly as smooth as they should be, and some moments do not have the correct pace that they should have. Due to the rough editing, the pacing can be very uneven at times. The movie really starts off with a very quick pace, going through the characters quickly, but then slows down drastically as it gets into the second act. That was a very jarring transition to have.
A minor complaint, Cate Blanchett may be a great actress, but her role here is a kind of thankless one. Her character essentially is just there to move the plot forward, as she is involved in a crucial point in the story. Other than that, her character is kind of just there, and has very little screen time. Blanchett certainly does not do a bad job, but she does not have very much to work with here. Kind of just feels like a waste of Blanchett’s time.
Thanks to A-list talent, Monuments Men is much a much smarter and better film than it has the right to be; and a great ode to the caper and war flicks of yesteryear. It’s sure to have its detractors, but George Clooney continues to prove himself as a director with an unique perspective, and I can not wait to see what he does next.
Take a Drink: every time Matt Damon speaks French.
Take a Drink: every time Matt Damon is told his French is awful.
Take a Drink: for every use of the score.
Do a Shot: for MATT DAMON!