Director: George Clooney
Cast: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, Jon Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Hugh Bonneville, Bob Balaban
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If you think that truth is stranger than fiction, you’d be correct. The book that gave rise The Monuments Men documents many heroic achievements of over 300 men and women, who risked their lives recovering artwork that went missing during the Nazi occupation in World War II. Director, co-writer and lead George Clooney attempts to condense those stories and cram them into 110 minutes.
Frank Stokes (Clooney) convinces the US government that someone should be in charge of this task and is promptly given permission from the President to assemble a troop of allied scholars, some of whom have never been drafted into the army previously, and will need to go through basic training.
As Stokes and Granger (Damon) attempt to transport us back to the 1940s with the odd word like “swell” and “ticker”, everything feels too familiar and clichéd. Just in time, a montage of Bill Murray, Jean Dujardin and Jon Goodman being located and summoned to the shores of dear Old Blighty momentarily lifts the film’s spirits.
But despite a cast list as meaty as a Texan BBQ, their parts are minimal and their talent underused. Cate Blanchett is relegated to a minor role of Claire Simon, where her very Germanic accent feels out of place, so much so we wonder if she is French at all. Simon has a couple of moments of genuine emotion with Granger (Damon), but not nearly enough to justify her being there. It rankles, meanwhile, that Campbell (Murray) struggles to even muster some joy; any attempt at comedy falls short.
The script is much like Jon Goodman on basic training. It sets off with tentative steps, almost breaks into a jog, then spends the rest of the time just trying to get over obstacles until the finish line is in sight. With the Germans on the run, it seems our men can go anywhere without running into more than a few stray Nazis. Disjointed and at times cumbersome, the story’s mid-section goes AWOL. Smatterings of undeserved sentiment litter the plot, but they feel too little, too late. The Monuments Men is clearly meant to pull on our patriotic strings, but only produces an uncomfortable twang.
Essentially Ocean’s 11 meets The Great Escape, The Monuments Men captures neither the thrills of the former, nor the sentiment of the latter. It leaves you searching on Netflix for a bespectacled Donald Pleasance, a tanned Jim Rockford, and McQueen leaping barbed wire on a Triumph.