ByBenjamin Marlatt, writer at

Based on a true story, The Monuments Men centers on a group of soldiers tasked by FDR with going into Germany to rescue artistic masterpieces from Nazi thieves. The expedition is led by Frank Stokes (George Clooney) and James Granger (Matt Damon) – along with a band of other art historians, experts and architects that include Richard Campbell (Bill Murray), Walter Garfield (John Goodman) and Jean Claude Clermont (Jean Dujardin).

Racing against time, these men risk their lives venturing into enemy territory in order to save culture that nearly spans a millennium.

Like The Wolf of Wall Street, The Monuments Men was also slated for the fall-winter Oscar season in 2013, but due to editing conflicts was pushed back into early winter of 2014. A film with this type of cast headlining it as well as the subject material would be rife with Oscar potential.

Unfortunately, it’s a bit of a letdown.

While it’s evident that co-writer/director George Clooney handles the material very respectfully, The Monuments Men still suffers from pacing issues and an uneven narrative. The marketing trailer for this film offered something completely different: an adventurous, exciting look at an event in history most Americans are probably unaware of. What we end up getting, aside from a few standout moments, is a mostly dull, inconsistent film.

That’s not to say I was expecting this to be Saving Private Ryan or some zany, heist film like Ocean’s Eleven. Far from it. As I previously mentioned, Clooney handles this subject with respect and one of the best elements of this film, apart from the cast, is that Clooney gives the film a realistic tone that aims to avoid escapism that would work in a different film, but not here. Still, though, the subject is an engaging story, one that doesn’t require Saving Private Ryan style flair, yet despite reaching for greatness, it comes up short.

The main problem is the way the narrative is played out. Centering around seven men, the film bounces from two of the seven men to the next two and then over to Damon and then back to Clooney. Ultimately, it feels like scenes slapped together with Clooney’s narration thrown in to explain why this is happening and then why that over there is happening. A slightly romantic subplot involving Damon and Blanchett (a tremendously talented actress wasted in a rather flat role), doesn’t add much to anything either.

Clooney’s not a bad director. Three of his directing efforts (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Good Night, and Good Luck and The Ides of March) I really liked. Leatherheads, on the other hand, was a dud. This film isn’t quite as bad as Leatherheads, but it’s once again Clooney trying to recapture that 30-50′s era of filmmaking. Leatherheads tried to be that zany, screwball style of comedy from the classic era. Here, he’s trying to recapture that classic era of war film, but it doesn’t pan out as well as it should. It’s not as easy as some might think to get that classic era vibe. Clooney can pull off the performance, but he needs to work on the directing and writing. Not even he can become Frank Capra overnight.

It’s a shame ’cause this is an exceptional all-star cast stuck in script that gives them little to work with. Clooney, of course, does what he does best: playing the calm and confident lead. Damon really doesn’t get much to do, aside from pressuring Blanchett to tell him where the art has been taken to.

It’s really the supporting cast that carries the film. Most probably saw the trailer, thinking they were gonna get the usual Bill Murray charm, but sad to say, he’s not given much to work with. Not that he gives a bad performance, just don’t expect him to be his usual self. In fact, he’s playing more the straight man to Bob Balaban, who has a few great moments, particularly in a scene where he and Murray are questioning someone at their home. John Goodman and Jean Dujardin are also effective, sharing most of their screen time together. It seems like ever since he won his Best Actor Oscar for The Artist, Dujardin has been popping up every so now and then in little supporting roles. I’m hoping he gets more opportunities, ’cause he really can be a dynamic presence in the right role.

The real standout for me here is the one that gets the least amount of screen time: Hugh Bonneville. As the most complex character out of the group, Bonneville nails every scene he is in, and the moments where he arrives were the ones that really had my attention. Without giving anything away, his scene in the church is one of the more moving moments in the film and he hits it out of the park.

This isn’t a terrible film. The Monuments Men has its heart in the right place. Unfortunately, in spite of a stellar cast and a few great moments, including a great introductory montage, it winds up being a mediocre film. Had Clooney tightened up the narrative a bit, we could’ve gotten a much better result. It’s a very intriguing story, one that should be told, but overall doesn’t do these unsung heroes of WWII any justice.

I give The Monuments Men a C+ (★★½).

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