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“The Monuments Men” – Early Review (NEGATIVE)

February 6, 2014

Screen shot 2014-02-06 at 9.02.51 PM

Such a bummer, a film with a meaty cast such as this, fails on many levels. Yet, somehow this movie more or less comes off as a delightful failure. There are many things wrong with the movie, but the things wrong with it, would’ve worked in a film made in the late 40’s to mid 50’s. Problem is, the times have changed and what worked 70 years ago, doesn’t tend to work today.

Lt. Frank Stokes (George Clooney) has been tasked by FDR to enter into Germany during the peek of the war to rescue artistic masterpieces from Nazi thieves and returning them to their rightful owners. It would be an impossible mission: with the art trapped behind enemy lines, and with the German army under orders to destroy everything as the Reich fell, how could seven museum directors, curators, and art historians possibly hope to succeed? But as the Monuments Men found themselves in a race against time to avoid the destruction of 1000 years of culture, they would risk their lives to protect and defend mankind’s greatest achievements.

The story is an interesting one; it’s something you’d certainly learn about in your high school U.S. History class, I know I did. As a lover of art I was intrigued for good portion of the time, however, the films screenplay is riddled with problems. Weak character development, tonal shifts that come off as semi-bi-polar, and questionable musical score by renowned composer Alexandre Desplat that still baffles me, not to mention Desplat has an odd cameo, marking his first big on screen performance.

You’ve got a dynamite cast at play here including the likes of Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, Cate Blanchett, Jean Dujardin, John Goodman, the list goes on. And not a single one of these people look like they’re giving us a redeeming performance, well maybe Murray, and I’m not saying that because I’m biased (although that would seem to be the case), Murray’s character comes off as the most genuine person of the group; the Christmas scene set during the Battle of the Bulge is without question the most defining dramatic moment in the entire film.

And then, there comes the out of left field relationship between Blanchett & Damon. Damon’s character is trying to find the location of the recent stolen Paris artwork, Blanchett’s character is part of the resistance and has mountains of info to give, but is too stubborn. Finally, when she softens up and is willing to help Damon’s character, who by the way is a happily married man, she comes on to him, using the bullshit excuse, ‘It’s Paris.’ *Wink-Wink*. Leading to one of the most awkward and uncomfortable dinner scenes you’ve ever seen. Why all of a sudden is her character, who loves art more than life itself, wants to play home-wrecker to such a nice gent???

Screen shot 2014-02-06 at 9.02.58 PMThe tone shifts from wisecracking 40’s style comedy to “Saving Private Ryan” melodrama. Why did Clooney, and his writing/producing partner Grant Heslov, feel the need to do this? The only thing I could think of was they we’re trying to recapture those classic WWII films of the 40’s and 50’s, and then decided to blend it with the dramatic stylings of modern day cinema. Problem is it didn’t work, at least not to its full potential; the only thing it actually succeeds in doing is giving off this oddly weird vibe throughout the 2-hour runtime.

The goofiness and fluff of the films tone, not mention it’s whimsy score, makes this a rarity of bad. Another issue was the fact that it was trying to cover several other critical WWII themes in what would be called an ‘abridged’ version. The sheer ‘brush off the shoulder’ mentioning of the Holocaust/Nazi anti-Semitism was probably the last straw for me, why? Because that’s not the movies main focus, if you’re going to tell a story about classical art theft, stay on topic, lets not derail, and try to force feed something that other filmmakers have clearly done a greater job at telling; *cough*Spielberg*cough* *cough*“Schindler’s List”*cough*.

Question remains, is the experience of the film painful to sit through? No. Some people, most likely the blue hairs who’ll see this rather than “The Lego Movie”, will eat it all up. “The Monuments Men” has it’s funny moments, and a couple of likable characters on the Monuments Men team, but the movie simply DOESN’T WORK and that’s truly the biggest disappointment to take away from it. Clooney obviously was trying to do something different than the typical WWII drama we’ve seen in the last 20 years, but it simply didn’t work, there’s no other way of saying it.

GRADE: D

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