As a director, George Clooney tends to alternate between making alright movies and making excellent movies. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind was okay, but Good Night, and Good Luck was fantastic. Leatherheads was fine, but The Ides of March was terrific. Unfortunately, the pendulum’s swung back toward just good with his fifth movie, The Monuments Men.
Based on a true story, The Monuments Men is about a seven-man military squad that was organized near the end of World War II and tasked with recovering stolen paintings and works of art from the Nazis. George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Bob Babalan, Jean Dujardin, John Goodman, and Hugh Bonneville make up the septet (aided a few times by a French art historian/spy played by Cate Blanchett).
Nothing much original happens in the movie. It’s one part The Great Escape, one part Raiders of the Lost Ark, and two parts Ocean’s Eleven – with a dash of the “Flying Hellfish” episode of The Simpsons. That sounds like it would be great, but by mashing all of them together, none of the ideas get done very well.
The Monuments Men also can’t settle on a tone. There are moments of stark comedy, but they’re butted up against scenes of main characters dying tragically. In one scene, the Nazis seem straight of out Schindler’s List, but in the next, they seem straight out of The Blues Brothers. Because you can never tell what the tone’s supposed to be, the funny scenes aren’t as uproarious as they should be and the dramatic scenes aren’t as powerful as they want to be.
Those points aside, however, The Monuments Men certainly isn’t a bad movie. Clooney is a gifted director and a talented writer; while he does resort to schmaltzy sentimentality a few times and the movie could make a drinking game out of how many times Clooney’s protagonist orates about the importance of preserving a generation’s history, the movie never bores.
There’s no powerful climax to the movie, nor even any rising action, per se. (The movie starts at a leisurely pace and doesn’t really pick up any speed over its whole two hours.) The game cast makes it mostly worth it, though. They all work really well together and elevate the material to a large degree.
The Monuments Men isn’t anything you haven’t seen before and it would be untrue to say that it’s a masterpiece. Compared to most of the movies that come out in January and February, though, it’s one of the better ones.
3 stars / 5