johnlink ranks THE MONUMENTS MEN (2014)

The last time I got my hopes up for a semi-comedy/semi-true story about war with a bunch of seasoned actors I was sorely disappointed by THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS. But THE MONUMENTS MEN is a different movie, with a more serious subject, and an entirely different group of people. I’m glad I finally got around to it…

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I watched THE MONUMENTS MEN (2014) on 9.24.14. It was my first viewing of the film.

This is a film which starts out gangbusters. A group of priests try to save a famous work of art in the heat of World War II. We find out, from a Professor Stokes (George Clooney, who also Directs and serves as Co-Writer), that they were unsuccessful. The work, like so much European art, fell into Nazi hands. We learn that Hitler was in the process of trying to amass the world’s greatest art pieces, or destroy them if they did not fit his ideology. Stokes gets the green light to recruit a bunch of guys, but they must be older since all the younger men are already at war. He builds a team which consists of Bill Murray, Matt Damon, John Goodman, Bob Balaban, Jean Dujardin, and Hugh Bonneville.

They are sent off to basic training, and that is where this movie hits a snag. Perhaps we are too used to the war film formula; a group trains together, a group goes to war together, someone dies, they rally, more people die, they succeed. If any of these pieces are messed with, it throws off our sense of timing as an audience. This is not to say that a movie cannot succeed by doing changing it up, but it better have a good alternative. MONUMENTS MEN, for awhile, does not. When Clooney’s Stokes delivers a speech about the impossible odds they face everything feels off. We haven’t seen them train, there have been no consequences, and they are all about to be split up. Perhaps this is a testament to the ability of long form TV to tell this sort of sprawling story, but everything seems to be happening too fast.

After the film offs a couple members of the group, it gets itself rolling again (partly due to bringing the band back together). The last 40 minutes of this are quite good, even if it feels as though plenty of artistic license is taken in an effort to ramp up suspense. I’m sure, for example, that the Russians wanted the art too. I doubt, however, that they were nearly banging down the doors just as the most important piece of art is being secured by the protagonists.

Even if the writing leaves something to be desired, the acting does not. The performances of Clooney and Damon are solid enough. Bill Murray is not wasted and steals every scene he is in. The introduction of his character, without saying a word in a ten second scene, is a Master Class in acting through subtlety. Balaban, Dujardin, and Bonneville all get one very strong scene each. Cate Blanchett provides both surprising youth and undeniable weight to the role of a French curator who unwillingly had to assist the Nazis. The dialogue in the more witty scenes is not bad, particularly in a bit about a land mine and the recurring jokes about Damon’s terrible French, but the plot is not as strong as it could be. These are all likable characters. I’d love to see a three hour movie which didn’t feel the need to rush through the first hour in order to slow down and get to its point in the second hour. I wanted more build in order for the payoff to have more weight.

None of which makes THE MONUMENTS MEN a bad movie. It works as entertainment and makes a decent enough point about the value of art versus the value of life. But you can’t help but feel like something was left on the table with this one. I love Clooney’s work behind the camera with almost no reservations. But his script, here, lets down the story and the performances. Still worth seeing, but also most likely forgettable.

SCORES

FILM: 6; MOVIE: 7; ACTING: 7; WRITING: 3

6+7+7+3+0=23

FINAL SCORE: 5.75 out of 10

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~ by johnlink00 on September 25, 2014.

2 Responses to “johnlink ranks THE MONUMENTS MEN (2014)”

  1. The cast made this a fun watch. Could have been better, but eh, could have been worse, too. Good review John.

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