Men go into war-racked countries and find art. I wish that the summation of the entirety of The Monuments Men wasn’t as simple as that first sentence. Sadly, that is it. Frank Stokes (George Clooney) tasks himself with the preservation and protection of European art during WWII. He assembles a seemingly random, other than for their obvious artistic prowess, team of architects, art critics, and curators and lets them loose in war torn Europe for an indiscriminate amount of time until all of the art is found. Yay!
The film focuses on a small subset of the servicemen who participated in the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Program – the Allied initiative on which the film is based. However, focus is an illusory word in the context of this particular piece. Monuments boasts a deep cast with the likes of Cate Blanchett, Jean Dujardin, Bill Murray, Matt Damon, John Goodman and the previously mentioned George Clooney, but never lets any of the players act.
Clooney directed a horrible mess of narratives and disconnected pieces that tell little in the way of plot and do nothing for character development. The entire film feels like a montage, as if the details of the story were only cursory to the final outcome and if any small morsel of titillating, juicy plot just happened to bleed from the screen there would be another cut to a different set of characters. There was no follow-through with the operations that the film was trying to depict; it would go from beginning to end before there was even time to realize that the story was already being told. Seemingly massive plot points would be glossed over while the camera would take us back to an inconsequential encounter with Goodman or Murray’s characters.
Most of the action of the film takes place in the narrative patchwork of Clooney and Damon’s vignettes and rarely show moments of consequence from other character’s point of view. Goodman, other than a great chemistry with Dujardin, and Murray are both shoe-horned into comedic rolls—dishing out silly jokes and one-liners, when they are even present, in the place of meaningful dialogue that could have, doubtfully, tied the film together into a coherent piece of work.
Underneath all of this post-Oscar murk of a movie there is one singular message that is worth pondering which is introduced in the beginning and readdressed at the end of the film. That being: Is art worth dying for? This question is highlighted continually throughout the 118-minute runtime and is punctuated, albeit a bit heavy handily, by the end of the film. This is an inquiry that resonates in our own culture today, as appreciation of the fine arts continues to decline, and was no doubt one of the points Clooney was trying to make to the audience.
Ultimately, The Monuments Men fails at providing an entertaining experience. The cast often had no impact on the piece at all. I cannot even remember the name of John Goodman or Bill Murray’s characters and that is a true testament to the inability of Monuments to solidify anything – from characters, to plot and pacing. The narrative form of small glimpses into the work and operation of our group shorted the potential to tell a truly gripping story. There are also two completely baffling instances that detracted heavily from this film. The first being an errant plot-line that deals with a nameless Russian Officer also collecting works of art as a means of war reparations.
Now mind you, this is introduced near the closing of the show and all culminates at the end in a, “Got you Suckers!” moment for the title characters. The second offense was the overly garish score that consisted solely of United States Military songs. The type of music you would hear in an old war-bonds ad. While the music is fitting for the time period and the context of the film, it all almost felt pornographic as The Monuments Men drove off into the sunset after getting one over on the Russians with a good ol’ American victory song playing in the background. But, wait, wasn’t this a movie about the Germans?