[pullquote cite=”” type=”left, right”][amazon text=Amazon&template=carousel&chan=That Film Guy&asin=B00DHJT4US][/pullquote] Boasting an incredible cast of Hollywood character actors, you could be forgiven for thinking that The Monuments Men was being geared for an awards glut. However a delay in release to put it immediately out of contention and raised concerns about the finished quality of the film.
During World War II a group of art historians, lead by Frank Stokes (George Clooney) risk their lives to save precious pieces of art that Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party have stolen during their conquest of Europe. The group, including Walter (John Goodman), Richard (Bill Murray), Preston (Bob Balaban), Jean-Claude (Jean Dujardin), James (Matt Damon) and Donald (Hugh Bonneville) join the army, split into groups and travel Europe, following leads that they hope will reveal the secret hiding places of some of the World’s most famous artworks.
Based on a true story, The Monuments Men might be one of the most startling and incredible real stories from the second world war, what a shame then that the film, with its dazzling array of acting power is such an uneven and unsatisfying piece of work. Due to the sheer number of characters, a delicate balancing act is required to keep the pacing and the drama at the level required, but what it results in is thinly-outlined characters who only occasionally engage.
The basic premise, as spoken ham-fistedly by Clooney’s Stokes is that No piece of art is worth a human life. An interesting idea that is rushed in execution and exploration. The plot zips from place to place, with little time spent building the environment of World War II. This is fine in principle, but with each characters shown as a two-dimensional caricature, there’s little to get the audience invested.
These characters are introduced with a singular characteristic (jovial, grumpy, intelligent, honest etc) and are left to flounder in a variety of beautiful European environments. Some are killed, some survive and some art is saved, but considering the almost unbelievable nature of the true story, this feels like a piece of throwaway popcorn fodder that wastes every opportunity. Some of the problem is the need to stick to the true elements of the story, but with Hollywood’s reputation of blending true stories into three-act structures, it’s almost ridiculous to think that they couldn’t do it here.
Thankfully the performances of the supporting actors have enough entertainment and interest to stop the film drifting into really problematic territory. There is a strong turn from Cate Blanchett as the stand-offish French art-lover. Meanwhile Clooney’s direction evokes old war films from the past, but the uneven tone, skipping as it does from light comedy, to melodrama via self-indulgent sentimentality really slows the pacing and leaves the audience with what is a forgettable quasi-drama.