The Monuments Men

Directed By: George Clooney

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

Unless you're Martin Scorsese and getting geared up to release the next The Wolf of Wall Street, getting your movie's release date pushed back within just months of its arrival in theaters is an ominous sign.  Not that it ever really had a chance at greatness, but I'm sure you all remember last year's G.I. Joe: Retaliation.  A case can easily be made for Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby as well.  Of course, I must always go back to the disaster that was Pluto Nash, which was delayed for two years before its notorious bombing at the box office.  It all boils down to one simple reality.  Delays just aren't a good sign for an upcoming movie.  That's why I came into George Clooney's The Monuments Men with my eyes wide open.  Backing away from the holiday movie season rarely bodes well for a film.

Frank Stokes (Clooney) sees World War II and Hitler's quest for domination as more than just an attempt to realize the Third Reich.  The war is not just costing the world a generation of mankind, but it's decimating the cornerstones of their culture and history — artwork, sculptures, and monuments.  By stealing and destroying artwork, Hitler and the Nazis are not just killing people but erasing the fact that they ever existed.  After all, these cornerstones are all that remain after they're gone.  With that, Stokes requests that President Roosevelt send a group of young art scholars to Europe to recover the countless gems lost in Hitler's quest to have everything.  These men are to find the art and return it to its rightful owners.  Things don't quite go as planned.  The young scholars are already overseas in battle, so Stokes himself ends up leading a crew of middle-age curators, art historians, and museum directors into the line of fire.

Stokes lines up a crew of the best experts he can find — James Granger (Matt Damon), Richard Campbell (Bill Murray), Walter Garfield (John Goodman), Jean Claude Clermont (Jean Dujardin), Preston Savitz (Bob Balaban), and Donald Jeffries (Hugh Bonneville).  To prepare for a war-torn Europe, Stokes and his old crew go to basic training.  While the younger troops are sympathetic to these old guys in the midst of training, things change once they get on the field of battle.  They find that many of the Allied Forces would rather sacrifice art than their men's lives and that they're not going to be very cooperative in this effort to save the culture and history of Western civilization from the clutches of the Führer.  During their quest, Donald goes to ensure that Michelangelo’s Bruges Madonna and Child is kept safe, and James befriends Claire Simone (Cate Blanchett), a French woman who might know where quite a bit of this missing art is.  Meanwhile, the others go from city to city throughout Europe looking for all the stolen works of art.

The Monuments Men is a lightweight film with a heavyweight cast and crew.  It's the first time in recent memory that I can remember George Clooney not delivering a halfway decent film from the director's chair.  Granted, the only other film he's actually directed in the last five years is The Ides of March.  Featuring many of my favorite actors including Clooney, his frequent co-star Matt Damon, the always enjoyable John Goodman, comedic veteran Bill Murray, and Best Actress contender Cate Blanchett, The Monuments Men is a film that's undeniably fueled by its star power.  Unfortunately, the actors can't get by on their charms alone.  Moreover, this fluffy comedy-drama lacks substance in more ways than one.

While it's a noble attempt to honor long-forgotten acts of heroism, The Monuments Men offers a thinly scripted plot that leaves no room for Clooney to deliver a thought-provoking piece of cinema.  It's too schmaltzy and loses the proper balance between comedy and drama from the very start.  It's a lighthearted, breezy depiction of one of the darkest, most turbulent times in recent human history.  I understand that there's some rich comedic material from the notion that some middle-age curators and art historians waded into one of the deadliest wars ever for paintings and sculptures.  However, there has to be some dramatic weight and grit in the film to truly honor the legacy of these brave art scholars.  Clooney's comedy drama is seriously lacking both of these elements.

In the last couple of years, I've reiterated my opinion that we've seen enough World War II movies on numerous occasions.  How many times do I need to be proven right before filmmakers focus on other points in time?  I know it's a rich piece of history with many, many angles and facets, but enough is enough.  The Monuments Men is nothing more than proof of this.  This lightweight bore gets a 0.09% rating.  Have a couple of glasses of cognac with this one.  You're going to need something strong like this to stay awake during Clooney’s latest.