Have you ever had an amazing idea, but you just don’t know how to make it happen? Maybe you know what you want the end result to be, but you just don’t quite know the steps necessary to get there? Have you ever wanted to see that frustrating process play out on the big screen? You’re in luck! The Monuments Men takes an amazing true story and a brilliant and stacked cast, and stumbles along for two hours. The end result of the movie is good, but everything leading up to it is a jumbled mess.
If you don’t already know, The Monuments Men is based on the true story of a group of older art experts who are tasked with going to the front lines in France and Germany during WWII and protecting art and historic artifacts and buildings and to recover what was already stolen by Hitler and the Nazis. That’s a really cool piece of our history and, yes, it sounds like a tailor made movie? But for some reason George Clooney just never could get his vision to come across the right way. I’ve said that most of the movie was a jumbled mess, but there are a few glaring reasons why.
The two biggest problems with The Monuments Men is the excessive jumping around in the story and a way too fast pace, coupled with the fact that there is almost zero character development. The second that the full team is assembled at the beginning, they split up into small groups all over the place. We get about a minute long into into each member of the team as they are recruited. From there we get very little time to know them as individuals. There are only two scenes I can remember that showed any emotional depth to an individual character. I went out to eat with my wife after the movie and we started talking about it. We both realized, we couldn’t think of the name of a single character from the entire movie. That’s really bad. So not only do I not know who I’m watching, I have no idea what they are doing. There is never any significance put on the specific pieces of art they are going after besides one. Just one! And even that explanation was kinda vague and weak. We are told the names of several specific pieces and we are supposed to just take their word for it that it’s significant. It didn’t work. It just left the audience confused and disinterested.
Another major problem with The Monuments Men was the way it was marketed. There were two major trailers released for this movie and they each portrayed it in a very different way. One portrayed this as an epic treasure hunt and a race against time. The other portrayed it as really light hearted and funny. The problem was that the movie was both, but it didn’t know how to separate the two. Too often we would be in the middle of a tense moment and they would try to shoehorn in a funny comment and it just didn’t work. If one thing was played up in both trailers, it was the fact that these older and for the most part out of shape men would have to go through basic training. It was really played up and I thought it would be a fun and significant part of the movie where the team starts to gel together. Not even a little bit. The scene was about maybe five minutes and it was completely insignificant. There was maybe one or two funny parts and they weren’t THAT funny. Again, most of the team was kept separate and we just don’t know who we are watching and why. It’s really frustrating.
With such a star studded cast, I had high expectations for the acting in this film. And for the most part it was indeed good. But like the rest of the film, it just wasn’t great. I don’t necessarily blame the individual actors, as they were fine with what they were given, it was their lines and Clooney’s direction. I know Clooney can direct (Goodnight and Good Luck is amazing) but this just wasn’t his finest hour. As the lead actor, playing Frank Stokes, he was good as usual. He plays the leader in big groups well, such as the Oceans movies, but the Stokes character just wasn’t as charming or as well written as the Danny Ocean character. Matt Damon probably shined the most, as James Granger, as he was given the most solo screen time. You aren’t sure why he is alone for half the movie but at least he is enjoyable to watch. He spends most of the movie with Cate Blanchett, who plays a French art curator named Claire Simone. Her accent gets old real fast but overall she was probably next to Damon as the best part about the movie, as the Simone character was easily given the most depth. Bill Murray and John Goodman are two of my favorite actors ever, but sadly they were probably the biggest disappointment for me. They played Richard Campbell (Murray) and Walter Garfield (Goodman) respectively. The problem was that Murray just doesn’t do fourth billing in a movie very well. And in truth, with his amount of screen time it seemed like fifth or sixth billing. He brings a very specific skill set to a movie with his classic demeanor and larger than life personality. They tried so hard to squeeze in his classic humor into his limited screen time and it always felt out of place and all to often very forced. Goodman had the same problem to a lesser degree. He handles the backup role better, but his time was limited and again, he just felt forced.
Overall, The Monuments Men wasn’t a terrible movie, but it just wasn’t good either. The end of the movie is actually pretty good, and you are glad you got to see the story. Its just the hour and a half leading up to the end that just isn’t worth it. Which is really sad, because this could have been really great. Over the past year, I would say this is in my top three most disappointing movies. Would I recommend it? If it’s free on TV or Netflix one day, its worth a watch. Should you even spend a dollar on it at a Redbox? Absolutely not.