Review – The Monuments Men (2014)

Director: George Clooney

Starring: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban, Cate Blanchett, Hugh Bonneville, Dimitri Leonidas

Monuments MenThe most significant moments in our history are made up of many, many stories. These stories provide the colour and the detail that give the greater narrative its significance. The story of the Monuments Men, a small group of experts who headed into war torn Europe to preserve a culture, is one of these stories and it has been brought to the screen by actor/director George Clooney.

As the Third Reich marched through Europe in the Second World War they collected important artworks and cultural artefacts from churches, museums and homes with the intention of displaying them in the planned Führer Museum in Hitler’s hometown of Linz. By 1944 the tide had turned in the War, the Nazi’s were retreating and fears started to arise that they would destroy their stockpiles of artworks as they moved out. “You can wipe out an entire generation,” explains Clooney’s Frank Stokes, “You can burn their homes to the ground and somehow they’ll still find their way back. But if you destroy their history, you destroy their achievements and it’s as if they never existed.” Even with the War seemingly all but won, were a history to be lost in its final stages the victory would be an incomplete one. So Roosevelt green-lit the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives program, in which a small team of art historians, architects and curators were sent into the warzone with the job of finding, retrieving and returning the stolen works.

The Monuments Men is George Clooney’s fifth feature film as a director. It has an old-fashioned adventure story feel to it. They are, after all, treasure hunters. But in creating this tone, Clooney seems to have sacrificed his own unique style in favour of something which feels like it is merely trying to imitate an older form. The narrative is episodic in nature. As the Monuments Men split up and head to different points of the European continent on different missions we move between their different stories. Some of these episodes are amusing, some are touching, some are exciting. However, with our attention being split between eight co-protagonists, none of the characters are given enough time or depth to really engage us. There are simply too many of them for a two hour movie. That being said, Clooney has assembled an all-star cast, with the likes of Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban, Cate Blanchett and, of course, Mr Clooney himself. While it may not have the wow factor of the Ocean’s 11 cast, it is none the less an impressive collection of talent and it is the charisma of these actors, more so than their characters, which keeps you engaged in the film and represents its greatest strength.

The Monuments Men looks great. It is beautifully shot by Pheldon Papamichael and the production design is top notch. It focuses in on a really fascinating and unique story, but unfortunately it fails to reach the heights that story deserves. It is not quite as funny and irreverent as it could have been – especially considering its cast – but neither is it as serious and gritty as it could have been. Instead we are left with a very earnest and sentimental film which at times is just a bit bland.

Rating: – ★★★

Review by Duncan McLean

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