Friday, February 7, 2014

The Monuments Men Movie Review

Matt Damon, Hugh Bonneville & George Clooney (r)

Ain't War Swell

Check out the photo above. Looks like three guys coming back from war... Happy to be alive, reunited with their loved ones, etc. Trouble is, they're just arriving. So why the smiles? It's pretty simple: George Clooney and his pals want to feel young again, at the expense of an audience who has to sit suffer through his intolerable The Monuments Men. Turns out nobody wanted to make a movie about art history and World War II; so Clooney decided to set us straight.

Rotten Tomatoes Plot: Based on the true story of the greatest treasure hunt in history, The Monuments Men is an action drama focusing on an unlikely World War II platoon, tasked by FDR with going into Germany to rescue artistic masterpieces from Nazi thieves and returning them to their rightful owners. It would be an impossible mission: with the art trapped behind enemy lines, and with the German army under orders to destroy everything as the Reich fell, how could these guys - seven museum directors, curators, and art historians, all more familiar with Michelangelo than the M-1 - possibly hope to succeed? But as the Monuments Men, as they were called, found themselves in a race against time to avoid the destruction of 1000 years of culture, they would risk their lives to protect and defend mankind's greatest achievements. From director George Clooney, the film stars George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban, Hugh Bonneville, and Cate Blanchett. The screenplay is by George Clooney & Grant Heslov, based on the book by Robert M. Edsel with Bret Witter. Produced by Grant Heslov and George Clooney.

What’s Best: On paper, The Monuments Men looks like a hit. Four Oscar winners (Blanchett, Clooney, Damon & Dujardin) and an original plot, based on a true story. It even has Bill Murray in it! So obviously, I can see (some of) its appeal. I imagine older audiences will gravitate to its sentimentality and star power.

It's obvious that this story means a lot to Clooney, and I applaud that; but I get nervous when I see one person wearing multiple hats (director, producer, screenwriter, star.) There's a reason you never saw Joe Gibbs run a deep route, or Phil Jackson pass to Michael Jordan or Kobe.

What’s Not: I couldn't find a stitch of synergy amongst the cast: It's as if they all met each other for the first time, the night before. Clooney, the director appears content on letting his fellow actors "mail it in," in exchange for getting his message across. "Art is good. Hitler bad. Russia bad. USA! USA!" The story itself is preposterous. A handful of old guys race across Europe, saving tons of priceless art (worth literally billions of dollars) yet have a hard time getting their hands on a jeep. All the while, Clooney, the narrator preaches about the importance of art to society... even if it costs human lives.

As for the movie itself, it's almost drowned out by its underwhelming, patriotic soundtrack. My favorite? A soldier (conveniently saved by Clooney & co.) dies on the operating table, as a home recording of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" howls overhead. Cue shot of Bill Murray, naked in a shower with tears in his eyes. Oh, the humanity!

It gets worse (much worse.) One of the team bites the dust (oops, spoiler alert) but before he does, we're "treated" to the following scene. Guy, dying in jeep. John Goodman frantically knocking on the door of a random French country house for help. People inside house ignore Goodman (France bad.) Cue another sappy sermon by Clooney, about the trials & tribulations of war. Enough already.

Best Line: The Monuments Men is one big joke (minus the funny.) Take the laughably bad romantic angle between Blanchett & Damon. Blanchett's character attempts to seduce Damon (presumably it's OK to cheat on your spouse in Paris... Paris bad) with the following sweet nothing, 'You bring the potted meat. I'll bring the wine.' Once there (at Blanchett's apartment,) Damon is told to slip on a necktie. He blurts out, 'I do love my tie. It matches my eyes.' The color of the tie? Black and red. Who is he, Count Dracula?

Last but not least, Clooney's 'Seems Germany took better care of artwork than people,' seems a bit too casual, even for a quasi-propaganda film like this. Clooney bad?

Overall: Towards the end of the film, someone (I can't remember who, I was getting sleepy) says, 'You can add this to the long list of Hitler's failures.' Clooney hasn't had many of his own, but The Monuments Men is a monumental miss. Clooney's character appeals to FDR early on... by asking, 'Who will be their protectors? Who will keep Mona Lisa smiling?' Ugh. He's referring to inanimate objects. No need to be so dramatic, no matter how much they're worth.

This movie resembles bits & pieces of countless others. Saving Private Ryan, Stripes, National Treasure, Oceans Twelve... but without any of the good parts. By the time it's over, Clooney appears sanctimonious with his constant digs at Russia's "trophy brigade" and how the US just wants to get everything back to its rightful owners, etc. etc. Ever hear of the "spoils of war?" Every great super power (including the U.S.) has done it - that's how you become a super power in the first place!

It's one thing to entertain an audience, but quite another to lecture it. The Monuments Men is dull, shamelessly over-patriotic and tedious (to a fault.) It's also a great waste of talent (Clooney included.) One of my favorite PR agents stopped me afterwards, and asked me what I thought about the movie. I replied, "I had more fun brushing my teeth this morning." I still stand by that statement (brush and floss people!) This story had potential... Too bad it was all for naught.