The Monuments Men (2014)

10 Feb


Smith’s Verdict: **1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“The Monuments Men” is a war film that is never dull, features an all-star cast, has great cinematography, has a fascinating story to be told (a WWII tale that most people forget about), and has its share of effective moments, both lighthearted-comedic and sorrowful-dramatic. That’s why it disappointed me when there wasn’t much else to it. A few things seem to be missing from what could have been a great film. That it’s merely “okay” is more disappointing.

Based on a true story, the Monuments Men in the title refer to a unit of eight men who, near the end of World War II, are there to track down and save as much of Adolf Hitler’s art as they can. They are led by George Clooney (who also directed and co-wrote the film) and consist mostly of historians and professors played by Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Bob Balaban, Jean Dujardin, Hugh Bonneville, and Dimitri Leonidas.

Why did I use the actors’ names as opposed to their character-names? Because it’s Clooney, Damon, Murray, Goodman, Balaban, Dujardin, Bonneville, and Leonidas. One of the major problems with this film is that there’s a distracting lack of characterization. I know these actors are playing characters based on real people, but the film doesn’t give them a lot to do. By the end, I never remembered any of the characters’ names, let alone knew who they were. I just saw recognizable actors doing their thing. They get big moments, but not much else.

There’s a saying that music can make or break a movie. In this case, there are moments when the music score in this film really cripples the film. The “lighthearted” music for the humorous moments is too much, the “sorrowful” music for the dramatic moments is too much, and even in a tense moment, such as when Matt Damon’s character accidentally steps on a land mine and the others have to help him out, the music ruins things. The problem is that the music is too reassuring—everything seems to be OK.

I can’t help but wonder if either the film was made very quickly or there was more material that had to be cut out of the final version before release or what, because at a nearly-two-hour running time, “The Monuments Men” feels strangely too short. There are moments that seem to be going somewhere, but they’re forgotten about quickly. And that’s a shame, because those moments make the film for a while. I have to wonder how much better this film might have been if it had more to deliver with each of the characters and the journeys they face. There’s a French spy played by Cate Blanchett who strikes up somewhat of a relationship with Matt Damon’s character. That’s interesting, and her character is interesting at first. But like everything else, there’s a distracting lack of development here.

With such talent involved, “The Monuments Men” is at least watchable. And there are a few good moments that I’m glad I saw. But it’s either the script or the editing that has to be faulted here. In the end, I saw an “okay” film and I’m forced to write a mixed review for a film that I could have liked.

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