'The Monuments Men'
It’s always a bad sign when a movie gets bumped from a prestigious awards-gobbling fall release into the January/February dumping ground. It’s an even worse sign when that movie is a Hollywood superstar packed affair and those stars aren’t seen flogging the project on every possible media venue. ‘The Monuments Men’ is a film starring, written and directed by George Clooney that the smirking star clearly already wants to forget.
Watching the film, it’s easy to see why. This is a very lazy attempt to revive the old-fashioned Hollywood men-on-a-mission war movies that lacks any sense of urgency, drama or suspense. Instead, it attempts to coast by purely on movie star charm and doesn’t even do a very good job of that.
The film is based on the true story of a group of American soldiers assigned to track down the great works of European art stolen by the Nazis during WWII. It was a fairly trivial mission, but one that ended up accidentally being important when the team stumbled upon Germany’s entire collection of gold in one art raid, which helped end the war in the process. In the movie, we know the mission is important because Clooney spends all of his screen time in the first hour rattling off speeches explaining to the audience how important his mission is. That message never really sinks in, and sadly Clooney’s attempt to transform it into a light comedy with dramatic undertones fails as gentle entertainment as well. Clooney’s battlefields are devoid of blood and dirt. Everything looks like a movie set, and his haphazard directorial style never creates any sense of drama or suspense. The whole experience feels like a crushingly dull exercise in old-timey Hollywood style.
Clooney has always been a performer who reminds audiences of classic Hollywood fantasy. He never really disappears into his characters, instead coasting on the charm of his screen persona like a modern Cary Grant. There’s nothing wrong with that approach and clearly Clooney is good at it. However, in ‘The Monument Men’, he tries to apply that nostalgic style to directing, to his detriment. The opening minutes play like a WWII version of ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ with Clooney gathering a team through smirks and musical montages. The film continues to favor that laid back comedy style throughout, and it works in fits and starts (particularly during the scenes between the great Bill Murray and Bob Balaban).
The problem is that Clooney wants to have emotional weight amidst all the frothy comedy, but that cocktail never comes together. Throw in the fact that the over-stuffed cast has too many stars without enough to do and you have a lazy blockbuster hopeful that shuffles across the screen begging the audience to laugh and cry without ever giving viewers an effective reason to do either.
The movie is a failure, but at least a somewhat noble failure in that it’s clear what everyone was going for and there’s enough talent on screen to deliver genuine entertainment in a handful of scenes. In the end, the film is probably little more than a document of a great party that Clooney threw for a group of friends in Europe while working on a project that everyone became increasingly bored with as the party raged on.
I’m sure that everyone had a good time making ‘The Monuments Men’. It’s just a shame that audiences weren’t invited to the party.