There's a lot of tension in The Monuments Men, which represents George Clooney’s version of an old-time-y guys on a mission flick.
But, alas, it’s not the suspense-y kind of tension derived from watching Hollywood’s finest fight evil Nazis on the big screen. It’s more the sort of tension you get from watching two people who really shouldn't be together go out and have a looong candlelight dinner - and talk a lot about World War 2.
The Monuments Men wants to be two different movies at once: an old-school WW2-set caper with wonderful actors navigating the dangers of war, while rescuing important pieces of art, and an old-school monument to the actual fallen heroes these actors are playing.
While you may think that these two movies can coexist peacefully - they're both old-school after all - they really can’t. At least that’s what The Monuments Men indicates.
The trouble starts early. After Jack Stokes (George Clooney) assembles a bunch of art experts (played by Matt Damon, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin and Hugh Bonneville) to rescue immortal masterpieces from the destructive clutches of the Germans, the art experts dash off, right into their dangerous mission.
Clooney and co-screenwriter Grant Heslov get the exposition out of the way pretty quickly (if not terribly excitingly) and don't waste too much time introducing these characters. This, in itself, is very admirable and executed comparatively briskly: The director apparently doesn't want to bore his audience. But once our guys are actually on their mission, The Monuments Men queues scene after scene of them exchanging dialogue about the importance of said mission.
Connected, to these weighty discussions is the question: is a piece of art worth a man’s life? To which you might say, "dunno, interesting question!" Or, "hell it is!" One of the problems with Clooney’s intended corniness is that he actually answers this question.
Another problem which makes it hard to swallow the amount of corn presented: The fact that the last days of World War 2 are raging is more asserted than actually shown. There are scenes of fighting, but they come comparatively late, are handled quite humorously (thank God for that!) and take place without many soldier folk attending.
The latter issue could be due to budget reasons or the simple fact that our heroes are there to search the ruins for art and not to fight. Still, it makes it hard to swallow those early weighty discussions about the cost of war. Heavy emoting needs to be earned and The Monuments Men is far too eager to get right to it.
The more lightweight part of the movie is quite enjoyable, mainly thanks to game performances by Bob Balaban and Bill Murray. But it’s also the decidedly smaller part of The Monuments Men, which is such a shame considering how many gifted comedians Clooney has cast - himself included.
What did you think of The Monuments Men? Let us know in the comment section below!