The movie “Monuments Men” chronicles the greatest art heist in history. Taking place at the end of WWII, the film is about a group of men, with assistance from a woman in France, who are tasked with the responsibility of locating, protecting, and recovering Europe’s ancient and Renaissance irreplaceable treasures, including the Bruches Madonna and the Ghent Alter.
Although the movie possessed an impressive pedigree of actors and production value, it was lost between tones and genres. One of the main problems is that fine art and action simply don’t go well together. As a result, Clooney ends up stranded in some no man’s land between joshing Robert Aldrich-style action movie, rousing Second World War epic and essay in sappy art-history nostalgia. The screenplay failed to establish one of the most important elements in a well-written screenplay–having a well-defined and developed central character (or protagonist). It’s a perfect example of why an ensemble cast simply does not work; furthermore, it’s very difficult to do each of the characters justice. There are many moments in the movie in which this ragtag band of men are gazing in awe at a Michelangelo or Picasso one monent, and fighting to the death with Nazis the next.
Even though the audience may be asking Clooney to wake them up when he and his band of merry men find the art they are looking for, that is a harsh assessment of a film whose heart is in the right place–the “story” is fantastic–but, having a good heart alone does not a good film make. Due to the all-star cast, including Hollywood royalty like John Goodman and Bill Murray, the film is a throwback to the post WWII era films that were released about 15-20 years following the close of the war. Such films were aimed at a morally exhausted U.S. audience that wanted to be congratulated for its role in ending tyranny; but also wished to be entertained by a caper, romantic story, or drawing room humor. In order to have accomplished this, the screenplay should have elaborated more on the no-so-romantic relationship between Cate Blanchette and Matt Damon’s characters. As it stands, the time spent on the romance-that-will-never-be between them could have been spent elsewhere.
If you’re looking for beautiful cinematography of fine art, you will find it in the movie. The movie does a great job at bringing the audience as close as many will get to these masterpieces. And, it will feel like an art history class that is actually fun and interesting for the more educated audience who is undoubtedly the ones buying tickets to this movie. Another accomplishment of the movie is that it highlights a story that many did not know existed and shows the world how important art is. In an age in which schools are pushing their STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics), it is refreshing that a movie advocates the support of the arts.
Looking for the next historic tear-jerking blockbuster, this movie is not it. But, if you are looking to learn more about this special operation during WWII and be mildly entertained amongst the action, then this is a great way to spend a couple hours.