The Monuments Men (SPOILERS)
Cert: 12A / 118 mins / Dir. George Clooney
There's an impassioned speech, early on in George Glooney's The Monuments Men, in which Lieutenant Frank Stokes (Clooney) explains why, in 1943, countless works of priceless*1 art mustn't be allowed to fall into the hands of Hitler for his planned über-gallery, and why he should be allowed to hand-pick a team of men*2 to locate, liberate, and eventually return them. George explains that while you can kill people, a society will rebuild itself; but by destroying their achievements - their history - you're destroying their future. If you're not onboard by the end of this speech, you'll feel like you're trailing behind for the rest of the film.
I wasn't onboard by the end of that speech. Nor when he made it again half way through the film. Nor when he made it at the end while justifying why two of his team were killed*3. As "a creative" person myself, I can certainly see why the team existed, but it seems to me to be part of a cleanup operation, not something you do while people are still dying (although we do get a shot towards the end of the film where artworks are being destroyed, just to visually indicate that they are working in a timeframe).
But, my war-effort-resources-based gripes aside, is it any good as a film? Well, casting director Jina Jay has gathered together some of Hollywood's leading lights so that Clooney's screenplay can keep them apart for most of it. Shortly after the Aesthetic Avengers are assembled, they're scattered in teams of one and two around mainland Europe for Plot Reasons™, giving them little scope for development as their respective plates are spun haphazardly. The separate sub-threads mean a lack of overall screentime for all the characters*4, leading to a gross underuse of both Bill Murray and Cate Blanchett, and a general failure-to-bond with the cast. Thankfully, the exposition's trowelled on at regular intervals, so letters to loved ones and stirring speeches deliver what character interaction doesn't.
I did find that the film frequently reminded me of the best bits of Indiana Jones, Inglourious Basterds and Return To Castle Wolfenstein. But only in a way which left me vaguely disappointed that I wasn't engaged in one of those, instead. The Monuments Men seems too flippant to be a true story, and too formulaic to be fictionalised*5. In fact, the moment where Stokes' team finds a two barrels - full of the gold pulled from teeth of murdered concentration-camp prisoners - carries more emotional weight than the rest of the film put together, and if anything just serves to undermine the self-righteousness of the plot. A real plot which did actually happen.
Proof that truth really can be more mechanical than fiction, George Clooney has masterminded a thoughtful action caper which is light on both the action and the caper. By no means a bad film, it's just far more bland and ineffectual than an account of the Second World War has any right to be.
The film's better than the trailer, I'll give it that.
Not in my opinion.
Only a tiny bit.
How screen-accurate are those Aviators that Clooney wears during the film? I know that Aviators were a thing during the Second World War, but would they have been worn by someone who's not a pilot?
*1 And artworks of lesser, more measurable, value as well, to be fair. But the film spends so much time concentrating on The Famous Paintings™ that you'd be forgiven for thinking otherwise.
*2 Who, for reasons which aren't properly explained, aren't already on the front lines in Europe getting shot at.
*3 One of them was killed because he'd gone to look at a statue all on his own when he shouldn't have been there - fair enough, I suppose - but let's not forget that the other one was killed because he stopped to say hello to a horse and smoke a fag. No, seriously.
*4 Except George™, obviously. George™ is in this all the way through.
*5 What's that? The paintings you've been going on about for the last two hours and the statue you've been going on about for the last two hours are both hidden in the same mine at the end of the film, and the Russians are coming so you're racing against the clock, and the final bit of the painting is upturned and being used as a table which you discover at the last minute, and you've all got to push the minecart with the heavy statue in it together as a team towards a light at the end of a tunnel? Oh, right.
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
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