When George Clooney sat down to flesh out the story of Monuments Men he had two distinct paths he could take. Either he could make a slightly light-hearted comic romp, or he could deal with the realism of a story that involves Nazi Germany. Unfortunately he chose both which makes neither work. Clooney clearly struggled with finding a tone for the film and it is apparent throughout. It’s almost as if he watched Saving Private Ryan and decided that what it really needed was a dash of Danny Ocean.
The Monuments Men features Clooney and an all star cast scouring Europe during World War II for all of the art that Hitler had been stealing so that they can return it to the rightful owners. The film goes to great lengths to attempt to convince us that the loss of art is the ultimate peril of war and it does this by shoehorning in Clooney himself orating about the significance of culture in between jokes about Matt Damon’s broken French. The Damon French joke is almost amusing the first time but quickly wears out its welcome, and the Clooney speechifying is ridiculously grating and also features some of the most hideous voice over work ever committed to film. The constant shifting in tone sabotages any gravitas the film thinks it has and wastes the potential that the true life story held. A waste on all fronts.
The Monuments stars the previously mentioned writer/director George Clooney and Matt Damon along with John Goodman, Bill Murray, Bob Ballaban, Hugh Bonneville, Jean Dejardin, and Cate Blanchette. An embarrassment of cast riches, however there is little for any of them to do. Ballaban and Murray are fairly good in their roles, but their scenes seem to be in a different film from the rest. Blanchette is rather one note and an odd choice as a French woman, but continues the Hollywood trend of putting her in roles that require an accent. Bonneville, Dejardin and Goodman are virtually non-existent with their only valuable contribution being to the cast list. The waste of talent is extraordinary.
The tonal problems are felt throughout. There is a scene involving Matt Damon and a land mine that is played for laughs and there is a scene where everyone stops as they realize they’ve just found a barrel of gold teeth from holocaust victims. These scenes shouldn’t be in the same movie. The Monuments Men is a mess from start to finish as it jumps from melodrama to broad comedy with no character development in between, yet an insistence that we should care and care deeply. As I left the theater I couldn’t recall the name of a single character which ultimately mirrors my feelings of the film as a whole. Boring and forgettable. Grade: C-