The Monuments Men
February 13, 2014
Labor Day (**) PG-13
The Monuments Men (* ½)
It’s quite natural to be suspicious when a film as high profile as The Monuments Men gets bumped to the movie dumping ground of February from an original December opening. The official word was that the December schedule was too packed and that a later opening would give the film more time to find an audience but I’m not really sure if anyone was buying that excuse. At least they won’t be now. After enduring the painful experience of actually seeing the film, it’s pretty evident why the film is just now hitting theater screens and certainly justifies the studio’s decision to wait until the later date.
The Monuments Men is a low point for George Clooney as a filmmaker and won’t be a shining moment on the resume of any of the terrific actors who appear in the film either.
Goodman, Damon, Clooney, Balaban & Murray in The Monuments Men
It’s fascinating to me how a film with such promising subject matter, based on actual events—the rescue of priceless works of art during WWII—could be turned into such a leaden film. It doesn’t help that it’s saddled with a script that goes absolutely nowhere and characters that are given little to nothing of consequence to do. I’m not saying that Clooney the director couldn’t have pulled this off but the problem seems to be Clooney’s insistence on working from the script he co-authored with his usual writing partner Grant Heslov. A more credible screenwriter could have done wonders with this subject but Clooney and Heslov are not the team to get the job done.
Clooney has the lead role as art preservationist Frank Stokes. President Franklin Roosevelt assigns Stokes with the task of locating thousands of works of art that Hitler has designated for inclusion in his Fuhrer Museum. To aid him in his quest, Stokes enlists a museum curator (Matt Damon), an architect (Bill Murray), a sculptor (John Goodman), an art historian (Bob Balaban), and a Frenchmen and an Englishmen with inside knowledge (Jean Dujardin, Hugh Bonneville) of what Stokes and his men are after.
Once the premise has been established, the film lurches from one lifeless set piece to another. Nothing of consequence really seems to happen and the various rescues of the actual works of art are curiously anticlimactic as well. It would have helped matters if Clooney and Heslov had taken the time to paint their characters in something other than the broadest strokes possible but they choose not to, leaving the audience with nothing but the film’s plot on which to hang their hopes. Once it becomes clear that nothing interesting is going to take place during the actual film’s story, it becomes a Herculean task to stay with the film. I was ready to check out after 40 minutes or so.
The Monuments Men is a textbook example of how a film without a compelling story, with all the star wattage that Hollywood can offer, can still manage to flounder and collapse under its own weight. Here’s hoping Clooney will scrutinize his screenplay a little more carefully next time he directs.
The Monuments Men is playing at area theaters, including the Carmike, in Hickory.
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