For those who haven't seen the 'Flying Hellfish' episode of The Simpsons, The Monuments Men charts the incredible true story of a group of ageing artists (George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Hugh Bonneville) tasked with recovering the epic catalogue of Europe's collective art history from Hitler's clutches. With this subject matter, gorgeous production design and an incredible ensemble on both sides of the lens one would expect this to be yet another home run for Clooney and Heslov (the team behind Argo and Good Night and Good Luck). Unfortunately, the beautiful moments contained within the often divergent threads of the story don't gel into a masterpiece comparable to the art they're trying to salvage.
The Monuments Men should be about the intellectual as a hero; about guys past their prime thrown back into the thick of it with education and expertise to salvage those defining cultural tokens. Sadly, Clooney and Heslov rely too heavily on the short hand of using excellent actors to convey back story to inform their interpersonal relationships and cramming far too many adventures into too brief a time. The stellar cast barely form their fellowship before they're unscrupulously scattered all over the European continent. More time with the team together, showing the bonds they had or were forming could have made you invest in the characters more than simply the actors portraying them.
That said - Clooney crafts moments of divine beauty for all of his key players. Bonneville's Jeffries, a downtrodden gambler and drunkard is completely on the outs from his former contemporaries and particularly his father. As he's in Bruges protecting Michelangelo's Madonna from the Nazis he's filled with new found, redemptive purpose. Garfield (Goodman) and Clermont (Dujardin) caught unawares between two armies, Campbell's (Murray) reaction to his daughter's Merry Christmas recording, Savitz's (Balaban) fierceness interrogating a suspected Nazi SS officer, the sweet tension between Granger (Damon) and Simone (Blanchett), and finally Stokes (Clooney) getting to sit before his 'opposite number' from the SS.
The primary flaw in the character direction is one notable occasion where there's clear scheduling conflicts and creative cutting cannot disguise that the actors attempting to play off of each other aren't in the same room. Clooney's aesthetic adores the lavish production design and there's a sublime moment as a mob of Italian people, surrounded by a swarm of artillery fire unite to save Leonardo da Vinci's fresco of The Last Supper.
The Monuments Men is a collection of beautiful, individual cinematic moments, instead of the defining tapestry of an incredible story.
[rating=3] and a half
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by: George Clooney Written by: George Clooney & Grant Heslov based on the book by Robert M. Edsel and Bret Witter Starring: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Hugh Bonneville, Cate Blanchett
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