The Monuments Men


Release: Friday, February 7, 2014


Hollywood’s golden boy, the man who no one thinks will actually age is not only going grey, he’s becoming uninteresting. His latest directorial effort fails as a historical work of art, but succeeds in the extreme in showcasing A-list celeb vapidity. I’ve never been the biggest sucker for the handsome devil myself, and with the release of The Monuments Yawn, I’m ever more comfortable on my little island.

After watching this film, if you find yourself in agreement that the guy is overrated, I’ll move over and share some space. This island is big enough for the both of us.

The latest contribution from the Ocean’s Eleven star is threefold: Clooney’s front-and-center as art historian/appreciator Frank Stokes and can also be found behind the camera directing a cast with its own sense of history. He also wrote the story. The likes of John Goodman, Matt Damon, Bob Balaban, Jean Dujardin, Bill Murray, Hugh Bonneville and Cate Blanchett were all at his disposal, as Clooney attempts to dramatize a most unusual circumstance — with the exception of Blanchett’s character, the rest form a band of art buffs who are tasked with locating and recovering precious works from a Nazi regime quickly crumbling during the final year(s) of World War II. They must go behind enemy lines and risk their lives in an effort to ensure der Führer isn’t successful in completely eradicating a culture via the hoarding and subsequent destruction of their remaining artistic creations.

By George, the man’s got a fascinating premise to work with, a heck of a cast, and an indisputably impressive film résumé that has earned him many a star and stripe. Yet he does a disservice to all of the above by creating a film that’s as boring as history courses are to the students who perceive their enrollment in them to be a complete waste of their time.

There’s no denying that one of the world’s most recognizable names has eked its way into a position of absolute authority. We’re at a point where seeing ‘Clooney’ beside the directorial credit is less of a surprise as it is an assumption confirmed; the longer you endure as a performer, the transition from actor to director is a bridge that will inevitably be crossed. . .just because. Of course, there are names aplenty who have realized their storytelling abilities are best demonstrated from the director’s chair, while still being able to show a modest level of conviction in their on-screen presence. Clooney is such a big name that the fact he’s a director now might be a reality we are going to invariably dismiss as the norm for aging A-listers.

In the many instances he comes up short as a director here, it’s not for a lack of trying. With a well-selected cast and a beautiful, authentic sense of time and place, his intentions are earnest and noble. He infuses wit into a story that, given the heaviness of the historical context, really could use it, and he appropriately selected class acts like John Goodman, Bill Murray and Bob Balaban as the vehicles for comedic relief. Too bad they never manage to yank the material out of neutral and become truly funny, as they more often than not are known for being capable of.

Costumes, make-up and set design are all impressive as well, particularly the set design. The film oozes 1940s quaintness. Dull browns and greens compose most of the shots taking place outdoors, while rich hues of mahogany and other colors of royalty help accentuate the dominance of the presence of the Third Reich, even in its state of decay in this moment in time. All actors are outfitted in appropriate garb that feels of the day, while the use of a portable radio that Frank discovers plays up the nostalgia factor wonderfully.

But considering all of these qualities, The Monuments Men should be so much better. It needs to be so much better. If the story were a map, we’re lost instantly in an incoherent jumble of directions, references, points of interest and a few other historical bits and bobs. At the very least, the journey we are meant to undergo throughout France and Germany is set up for some entertaining discovery. Instead what we are provided is a sprawling mess with an alarmingly low payoff come the long-awaited conclusion. Poor, if not nonexistent, character development is chiefly responsible for the way in which this film peters out into nothingness.

This mission is a noble undertaking, and so it stands to reason we should have some fairly compelling characters to deal with for two hours. As it turns out, this is arguably Bill Murray’s most uninteresting turn ever as Sgt. Richard Campbell, whose shining moment is cracking a tooth on some shitty food. Bob Balaban’s Preston Savitz feels nothing less than squandered; and while Goodman and Dujardin have more work to do, it’s still menial as compared to Clooney’s talky lead.

As per usual, good old George is perfectly satisfactory as a leading man, playing the invigorated art appreciator who’s responsible for rounding up the troops (I really need to cease and desist with the cute puns). His directorial eye isn’t so trustworthy though, as he clearly has no idea how to control tone. The Monuments Men is monumentally tone deaf as it switches from comedy to drama back to comedy and even to romance from time to time in the space of a few short scenes. Plenty of films slip in between genres, but none feel as bipolar as this one does.

Worse than any of the aforementioned, the film is really a tough sit because it so often falls flat. This includes the comedic side of things. Clooney proves he’s as incapable of writing a convincing, historical script as he is directing it. His most recent directorial effort is a cardboard cut-out of what should be compelling filmmaking; it’s flimsy, hollow and yeah. . .cardboard-y.

Best just to stick to the basics, George. You know, looking great in front of the camera and all that jazz.


2-0Recommendation: Tall order, recommending this one. The Monuments Men is a massive disappointment on virtually all levels. The main reason to go see this at this point is for the sake of seeing Mr. Clooney in another role, playing alongside otherwise excellent big-screen legends. Here, everyone (with the exception of the man himself) seems wasted in a movie that doesn’t seem interested in. . . .well, making anything interesting. I’d say skip this if you can help it.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 112 mins.

Quoted: “Take a goddamn cigarette, Private.”

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32 thoughts on “The Monuments Men

  1. Also never been his greatest fan, to be honest. In that case, shift up man, don’t kick me off the island. Hmmmm, this does not sound impressive though I would still like to see it.


    • You are very most welcome! It’s a nice little island, it doesn’t get visited very often because everyone ADORES the man. And I want to be clear, I don’t greatly dislike him, either. i’m just not bowled over by him as either an actor and, for now, as a director. This movie didn’t help things.


  2. I’m so surprised about this one, I mean, look at that cast! How disappointing. I’ll definitely be taking your word on this one Tom and will STAY AWAY. I’ll go and see The Lego Movie instead. 😀


    • Right??! It’s unfortunate that I have to be the Negative Nancy over here (again, I seem to be doing that a lot these last couple of posts. . .) but this really spoke to my experience. Just read a pretty convincingly positive review over at Keith & the Movies and he made some good points, I just wished I could have seen it the same way. So maybe read his, and then decide. 🙂


  3. Yeah, seemed like the buzz was heading this way. I liked Clooney’s first two directorial efforts, but seeing you mention there were five up above made me realise I had no idea he’d made two others in the meantime. Guess that goes to show just what an impact they’ve made…


    • hahah I know, right? I am not the most attentive of film reviewers/bloggers since I haven’t seen any of his other directorial efforts, but I’m really not in a hurry at this point to change that. I’ve heard Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is the place to start, though. So. . .maybe one day. This just left a lot to be desired. Such a shame.


  4. Hmmmm, I feared this might be the case after all the hoo-ha surrounding its delayed release. Looks like George is on Learherheads form rather than Good Night and Good Luck.


    • Yes indeed Mark, that definitely seemed to have put this film at odds with being a quality one. I haven’t read much about the delays myself, but it’s clear they had some impact. This was a snoozefest, which is really damn insulting to the talent on screen. So disappointed man.


  5. Good review Tom. Yeah, it wasn’t perfect, but I was charmed enough to where I could get past most of this movie’s fault. Although I do realize that there were plenty to be found here.


    • Yeah i noticed you did take a liking to this more than I did, which is always good to see. 🙂

      Unfortunately I just couldn’t get into it. The characters weren’t. . .characters. They were just the actors playing themselves, and watered-down versions at that. *cough-cough Bill Murray.*


    • Indeed sir. I was frustrated pretty badly by the poor quality of a film starring the likes of this. It’s early 2014 but i have a feeling this might qualify for one of the Biggest Disappointments for my next Digibread Awards. 😛


    • Hey Alex, yeah this movie is exactly that, a shame. On the surface it looks fantastic and I was a sucker for those trailers. Sadly it was not to be.


    • Yes indeed. Not sure if you had the same experience as me. Did you by chance sit next to a couple who didn’t know how to turn their phone off or at least on silent? I missed one of the actual funny moments thanks to those twerps


      • No. Fortunately, that didn’t happen to me. In fact, I was one of three people in the entire 100 ish seat auditorium.

        I did get so bored, though, that I exited the theater to buy popcorn. That basically never happens mid-movie.


      • Oh wow. Yeah count me in as one of those who really tries not to leave the theater for any reason. I could have seen myself doing something like that though in this one.

        Yeah these folks had the decency to let it ring a few times once before handling it. Then less than 5 mins later it went off a second time. Had this been a better film I would have definitely said something to them but I refrained. hahah


  6. Is it just me or is Clooney just a bad director? This is his fifth film and I’m totally struggling to name the others. Maybe if he had picked a tone for the film and stuck with it it might have been a better movie. Excellent review as always Tom


    • Confessions of a Dangerous, his first directing effort, is very good. I think Good Night and Good Luck is quite good, as well.

      I haven’t seen the two between them and this … But this is absolute rubbish.


    • Cheers Mikey, thanks muchly. This is the first directorial effort of his that I’ve seen and I’m not awfully compelled to see others. If I do do so, it’ll be Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, it’s lauded as a great piece. But this? Ugh.


  7. That is an awful rating for a movie starring this roster of stars. I am simply going to pretend I never read this, and just call you a lia….

    …No, I believe you. I mean, the whole world is claiming just how bad it is. I was going to watch it Thursday after viewing Labor Day, but that snore-fest put my buddy and I out of a movie watching mood. So it looks like it is good news that I did not watch both in the same day? Imagine that would be comparable to being sang a lullaby. I still plan on seeing it with my own eyes, even knowing how poor it will be. Man, I really am not that bright sometimes…


    • teehee, do as you wish. You may even come out of it liking it, this is entirely possible. 🙂

      But if you are disappointed, don’t say we didn’t warn ya. 😛


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