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Josh Reviews The Monuments Men

Two of the films George Clooney has directed are among my very favorite films.  I think his debut film, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, is probably in my top 20-30 films of all time.  It’s a deliriously clever, mind-bending piece of work, with a dynamite script by Charlie Kaufman and a killer performance by Sam Rockwell in the leading role.  Then there’s Good Night, and Good Luck, a powerful look back at Edward R. Murrow’s challenging of Senator Joseph McCarthy with another killer performance by an actor in the lead role, in this case David Strathairn as Murrow.

I cannot believe that the same person who directed those two films directed the flat, disappointing The Monuments Men.  (Nor can I believe that the film was written by the same writing team, Mr. Clooney and Grant Heslov, who wrote Good Night, and Good Luck.)

The Monuments Men is based on a true story of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Program, an effort by the allies to find and safeguard important works of art and culture in danger of being stolen and/or destroyed by the Nazis during WWII.  (The film is based on the book The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Heroes, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History, by Robert Edsel and Bret Witter.)  The film stars Mr. Clooney, along with Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban, and Cate Blanchett.

Based on a fascinating, real-life story, and with such incredible talent in front of and behind the camera, The Monuments Men should have been a hoot.  Instead, puzzlingly, it’s a flat, instantly-forgettable dud.  There’s nothing bad in the film, it’s just that there’s nothing particularly good in the film either.

At no point did I feel any real sense of momentum and adventure in the film.  At no point was I sucked into the drama of the story, of the beat-the-clock chase for hidden artwork before it could be stolen or destroyed.  At no point did the fate-of-the-world drama of the Second World War, within which this small group of Allied officers was operating, bring any sort of life or tension to the film’s story.  Instead, what we get are a series of disconnected, mildly diverting anecdotes with these different characters scattered in different places across Europe.  (Another disappointment for me with the film, though perhaps one that was true-to-life, was that immediately after this great group of actors was assembled at the start of the movie, they’re immediately divided up and seldom seen again all together.  I thought we’d have a lot of fun watching this amazing cast interact with one another, but that was not to be.)

Speaking of the cast, here is another of the film’s major failings.  I can’t believe how wasted this spectacular cast was on these flat, one-dimensional characters.  We didn’t get to really know or invest in any of these characters.  Not a single character ever deepened into anything other than, oh, that’s the guy played by John Goodman.  I’m shocked that the film couldn’t find a way for us to engage with these characters.  I can’t believe there wasn’t more fun, more drama, more LIFE given to these characters being played by this terrific ensemble of talented actors.

Woof.  I don’t know what else to say.  This was a big swing and a miss.  As I wrote above, there’s nothing BAD about The Monuments Men.  I could see one going to the theatre and having a perfectly pleasant, diverting time watching this movie.  But this this film should have been much more than that.  I can’t see myself ever much wanting to see it again.

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