The Monuments Men (2014)

The Monuments Men (2014)

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"Yes, it's a painting."
“Yes, it’s a painting.”

Twitter Plot Summary: Based on a true story, a team of art curators etc head into Europe in WW2 to save art from Hitler.

Five Point Summary:

1. Montage!
2. A sniper.
3. The random appearance of Adolf Hitler.
4. The Allies start closing in.
5. A race to the finish…

Despite my keen interest in all things World War 2, I was barely aware of the story surrounding the real life Monuments Men, the group of art scholars and auteurs that went into Europe from the final years of the war onwards in order to locate and rescue the art stolen and hoarded by Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. It’s an incredibly important story to be told, and one with a most pertinent question at its core – is a piece of art worth a human life? When you take into consideration the fact that Hitler wanted to wipe out all traces of those who didn’t fit in with his blinkered ideology, then it almost becomes a null point. If the people are gone and so is their artwork and culture, then it’s almost as if they didn’t exist in the first place. From that perspective, if the art is saved then yes, it is worth a human life to protect.

Sadly for the film, this point is laboured far too often and feels like you’re being lectured about this principle – the goal of the Monuments Men (which did include women, not that the film considers this) was an important one, just as important as stopping the rot that the Nazis spread across mainland Europe. It also sets itself up in the marketing campaign as a World War 2 caper in the same vein as Kelly’s Heroes. This also proves not to be the case. It feels very disjointed, with the team split into smaller groups to search through war torn Europe for the artwork (paintings, sculptures etc) that the Nazis were taking with either taking back to Germany with them or burning.

I’m sad to say that the cast are not given a huge amount to do. With the right material the likes of John Goodman and Bill Murray you’d expect them to have at least something of note to be getting on with. Yet again – this is a big fat no. Clooney’s direction is fine, it’s the script that’s the biggest problem here. Not quite sure if it wants to be a comedy or drama, it uncomfortably straddles the line between the two and ends up being neither funny nor overtly dramatic. There are some nice touches here and there – the interaction between Murray and Bob Balaban, for one – but other than those brief moments and the extremely good production values, there is little else to recommend. Matt Damon’s story with Cate Blanchett would have probably worked better in isolation to the rest of the script, and is perhaps the best of the many sub-tales we are presented with.

Goering planned to eat all of it. Even the frames.
Goering planned to eat all of it. Even the frames.

There is one further key problem that is endemic in terms of movie scripts and this kind of story – unless the film is turned into a mini series we can only look at two or three key pieces of art without confusing the audience and making it unnecessarily complicated. So, the main narrative focus is on the Ghent Altarpiece, a statue of the Madonna and Child by Michaelangelo,

Attempts are made in places to create some dramatic tension, specifically towards the end of the war as the Russians start making their way into Europe, but ultimately it doesn’t work. It’s a real pity, as it was a film I wanted to like but the individual pieces didn’t come together to form a cohesive whole. Much like the work of the Monuments Men themselves, this film of their exploits finds itself rummaging around looking for something of value to present to the wider world. Unlike the Monuments Men, the film fails in this task.

Score: 2.5/5

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