Tuesday, May 27, 2014

"The Monuments Men": A Monument to Mediocrity

Now Available on DVD and Blu-Ray

I really liked the idea of this movie.  The trailer made it seem like Ocean’s 11, but with a set of great, aging actors, and set in World War II.  It seemed like it would be a fun ride, probably with a few anti-war undertones to it.  I wasn’t expecting anything amazing, but I was expecting something coherent.  Unfortunately, that’s not what we have here.  Director George Clooney definitely has his heart in the right place, but unfortunately, he makes some pretty big mistakes in bringing his pet project to the big screen.

During World War II, an art collector named Frank Stokes (Clooney) pitches to the U.S. government that the Nazis are stealing or destroying Europe’s great works of art, and that the government should send in a group of art experts to ensure this art’s protection.  Stout brings together an all-star cast to hunt down these works of art, including John Goodman, Matt Damon, Hugh Bonneville (of Downton Abbey), and Bill Murray.  You may have noticed that I haven’t bothered to list the names of the characters each of these actors play, and that’s because calling them characters is a bit of a stretch.  The film does a great job of composing scenes that should give us insight into these characters and make us care about them, but it also barely makes the effort to establish the characters well enough to make the audience care.  This is particularly emphasized when the characters split up to different European cities and their interactions with one another are limited.  I didn’t remember anyone’s name or any defining characteristics about them because the film didn’t bother to take the time to introduce anyone.  Instead, it lazily relies on the identifiable faces of the actors, which is a real shame because if the actors had been allowed the chance to really build these characters, this could have been a great ensemble movie.

What this film really lacks is structure.  The individual scenes are very well directed, and the actors do a good job with what they’re given, but looking at the larger picture, everything feels so disjointed.  The film will often spend a few minutes on an amusing, but ultimately inconsequential scene, then cut to an equal inconsequential scene with different characters.  There isn’t much of an act structure to this film other than a bunch of guys wandering around Europe, looking for stolen art, and occasionally getting shot at.  There are a couple of death scenes that in a more cohesive film would have been heartbreaking, but here they come off as cheap attempts to pull at its audience’s heartstrings.  The film does get its act together a little bit toward the end for a phoned-in climax, but by that point I just wanted the credits to roll.

You can tell that George Clooney really cared about telling this story.  His various monologues that he speaks from a script that he wrote are evidence enough.  However, I don’t think he should have been sitting in the director’s chair if he wanted this telling to be successful.  He seems to know how to make an individual scene work, but he doesn’t seem to know how to make the important establishing pieces stand out or even exist in the first place.  And for that reason, despite the good performances and interesting premise, I can’t recommend this film.  There’s just nothing substantial enough to outweigh its faults.

Have a favorite George Clooney film?  Let me know in the comments.

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