Reviewed By

Christopher Armstead
As if Adolf Hitler and his Nazi shenanigans weren't bad enough, turns out the man was also an art thief.  As most know, Hitler was an art student and had he been a better art student there is no telling what the world would look like right now, but he was not a good art student, though he apparently never lost his love of art.  So as Hitler and the German forces were invading Europe, in addition to the already lengthy laundry list of atrocities the Nazi's were committing, they were also stealing rare and precious art works that I'm guessing were going to presented in the Great Hitler Met had Germany won the war.  If they don't win war then these pieces will be destroyed, and Professor Frank Stokes (George Clooney) cannot allow that to happen.  'The Monuments Men' is the story of a ragtag group of scholars, dressed like soldiers, who will get this art back to its rightful owners.  Or the United States.  I was thinking this was going to be 'Oceans' meets 'The Inglorious Basterds' or something along those lines.  It wasn't that.  Not even a little bit.

First thing Dr. Stokes needs to do is get his team together.  Every member has a particular skill, though I'm not quite sure if they ever used these particular skills in this movie.  'Development of Character' didn't seem to be a primary concern for director Clooney in this movie.  Regardless, there's Dr. James Granger (Matt Damon) who paints ceilings and whatnot, Richard Campbell (Bill Murray)… don't know what he does… Walter Garfield (John Goodman) who is a sculptor, Preston Savitz (Bob Balaban) who I believe is a stage director, Englishman Donald Jeffries (Hugh Bonneville) who talks to women in bars, and Frenchman Jean Claude Clermont (Jean Dujardin) who flies planes?  Maybe?   Anyway, it's time for a little basic training, some bromance bonding and then it's off to Europe to save some artwork.

Not so fast my friends because the cultureless armed forces could care less about saving works of art and just wants to bomb the heck out of everything and end this war.  If some lousy paintings get
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destroyed in the process, so be it.  Dr. Stokes has clearly stated that the destruction of art and culture almost equates to the removal of one's existence, and he is right about this as this was almost the exact blueprint for American slavery, but the powers that be could care less, thus Dr. Stokes and his team are on their own in making this happen.

Everybody breaks off into teams, except for Matt Damon's character who goes to France to hook up with Claire Simone (Cate Blanchette), a clerk who helped some chief Nazi catalog some of the stolen art.  Kind of.  I think this character was supposed to be French in this movie.  As great an actress as Cate Blanchette is, judging by the accent she was using I think I'd have gone with someone who was actually French to play that role.  Dujardin must've known somebody?

It will be a perilous mission for our Monuments Men and not all of them will survive the day, but history tells us that for the most part, they will succeed.  Even if this film, for the most part, does not.

I think I can pinpoint pretty easily why George Clooney's 'The Monuments Men' didn't work for me.  As we mentioned earlier, there were scenes where a couple of our heroes did not make it, and despite the grand music, dour narration and charming actors giving their best death scenes… these deaths meant almost nothing.  On the other hand there's a scene where an evil Nazi… like there's any other kind of Nazi… takes a blowtorch to some classics.  That scene had an effect.  Way more effect than actual characters dying.  This raises an interesting question in regards to this movie, or any kind of mission based movie.  What's more important… the mission or the men in the mission?  Director Clooney made the decision to make the mission the focal point of his film, not the men in the mission, and while I appreciate art as much as the next guy, and I also understand that fine art is timeless while people are finite, I am still a firm believer in character first.  If I care about the characters, then I'll subsequently care about their mission, no matter what it is.  Not necessarily vice versa.  Perhaps because there were too many characters, all spread out across Europe no less, with no one character being a central 'star' so to speak, not even Clooney or Damon, it was difficult to get to know these characters and understand these characters and root for these characters outside of the preprogrammed thought that we all hate Nazis.

It is a wonderful cast that Clooney had to work with, no doubt, and just taking a look at the sets, production and grand style in which these scenes are shot, we already know that George Clooney is a highly skilled film director.   Thus I have to work on the assumption that he made this as a conscious decision to make the focus of the 'Monuments Men' the saving of the art and not necessarily a story about the journey of the men saving the art.  

I wouldn't call 'The Monuments Men' a failure by any stretch as there is far too much talent involved and the movie does a lot of things very, very well, it just didn't move me in the way I had hoped. 
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