Originally, The Monuments Men was supposed to come out during December so it would be in prime position for Awards Season, unfortunately there was something wrong with the special effects and it was pushed back to February, after the deadline for the Oscars and in the midst of “dump month.” It was greeted with not so good reviews, most of them got it pretty right, but it wasn’t all that bad.
The Monuments Men is not the best movie of the year, far from it. George Clooney, who wrote, directed, produced, and starred in it does a decent enough job at adapting the 512 page book into a movie that is less than 2 hours. The acting is good, nobody really stands out among the star studded cast that includes Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, and Cate Blanchett, because well, there isn’t a whole lot for them to do. The comedy works well at times, with Matt Damon rattling off some of the movies funniest quips, while Bill Murray does his usual thing as well.
For those of you who don’t know what this movie is about; it is the story of a group of artists, architects, and other people involved in the art community who set off for Europe to recover the art that Germany has stolen and is likely to either destroy or display in Hitler’s dream museum once he wins the war. It is a race against time, for while the Allies are heading east, inadvertently destroying buildings and artworks in their path, the Germans are hiding away and destroying the art on purpose. Yet the movies biggest problem is it never feels like there’s anything to really be concerned about, it never feels like the race against time the trailers and even the actors in the movie say it is. Most of the film focuses on our characters sitting around and talking about home, or Matt Damon flirting with Cate Blanchett, or in one scene Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, and some random German soldier just sit on the ground and smoke a cigarette. There is no sense of urgency, no real concern about what they are actually there for.
But for as many times as George Clooney can talk about “saving the culture” or whatever his line is that he spews at least half a dozen times, we do not see a whole lot of art saving until the last third of the film. We are beat over the head with this message about trying to race against time to save where we come from, but for the most part, it’s just a whole lot of sitting around waiting for something to happen.
Now, I have read the book that is the basis for this movie, and I feel it would have stood far stronger as a miniseries. The book is even set into 5 different parts that could have each served as an episode. But, George Clooney tried so hard to pack everything into one short movie that we feel we are missing out on some of the action.
The movie is very entertaining for the most part, but it would not be correct to say that it is a nail-biting race to the end in order to save these “monuments.” It does have its moments that remind us what these people were fighting for, but it also leaves us wanting more. Hopefully this story can be revisited in the future and given the proper attention that this grand and epic story deserves, for what we get is a watered down and condensed version of what is and could be a truly great tale.