(l to r) Sam Epstein, George Clooney, John Goodman, Bob Balaban and Matt Damon in Columbia Pictures' THE MONUMENTS MEN.

The Monuments Men
DIRECTOR: George Clooney
CAST: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Jean Dujardin, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Hugh Bonneville, Bob Balaban
RUNNING TIME: 122 minutes


THE STRANGELY uneven though mostly glacial pace of this film turns the very dignity of the story into its undoing. Part caper without the tension, part unfunny comedy and mostly uneventful adventure story, it plods along.

Based on true events, the film tells the story of the art historians and museum curators tasked with finding art stolen by the Nazis during WWII. That is literally during the war, since they went behind enemy lines and poked about the most unlikely places to re-appropriate treasures like the Ghent Altarpiece.

Actually, simply telling the story of how that particular art piece was moved about would have been more interesting and exciting than trying to tell this larger than life story, incredible as it was.

Director/writer George Clooney has gone blatantly manipulative, essentially beating you over the head with the role of art in perpetuating a culture, and by extension the history of a people. It is a noble and true sentiment, worthy of inspiring a thousand movies.

But this one keeps on hitting you over the head with the message every time someone says it, instead of simply showing you.

The scene where Kip (Naveen Andrews) hoists Hana (Juliette Binoche) up the rope so she can see for herself the church frescoes in The English Patient shows you why we celebrate art. Hana’s clear joy in this moment does more for the cause of why we should save art than Clooney’s entire movie.

Clooney shows us the men’s reverence for the artwork, their determination and pluck and ingenuity in tracking it down and saving it. But, come the moment when he has to answer the question “was it worth the lives of people to save the art”, that is when we need him to show and not tell. And at that moment, nothing.

He has gathered a stellar cast, but only Cate Blanchett gets a chance to flesh out her character – she becomes so much more than a meticulous secretary, but a person with a family and foibles and secrets and regrets – though she has the least screen time of them all.

Matt Damon offers a terrible French accent, but little else to work with while Bob Balaban, Bill Murray and John Goodman’s good comedic timing is not exploited.

At least Hugh Bonneville gets to fulfil his Downton Abbey character’s wish to fight on the frontlines of World War I.

But, really, if you are thinking about things like that while watching the movie, it is not keeping your attention focused on the plot.

Trying so hard to make a film that is worthwhile and righteous just detracts from what was actually an amazing story. How odd that Clooney should turn it into such a trite bit of fluff.

If you liked Lincoln or Steven Soderbergh’s Che you will like this.