Nazi Germany and WWII stories are told regularly in film, like Schindler’s List, The Boy in the Stripped Pajamas, and Inglorious Bastards in typical Tarantino fashion. Next comes The Monuments Men, which falls short of expectations despite the all-star cast and crew.
George Clooney directed, wrote and starred in the film, based on a true story of a rag-tag ensemble of museum directors, curators and art aficionados called “Monuments Men.” In the film, the team sent by F.D.R. to retrieve stolen masterpieces from Nazi hiding spots fail to offer enough emotion to relate to the audience.
Cate Blanchett’s Claire comes off as desperate and unfulfilled, especially when her attempts to seduce James, played by Matt Damon, are denied. Claire is meant to portray a strong French woman who defies Nazi authority, yet James, a married man who resists her advances, easily weakens her. The scene is boring on Damon’s end; we see little struggle for the married man against Claire’s charms. And in the end, we only feel embarrassed for Claire.
The other main characters exhibit some male bonding, like Bob Balaban’s Preston playing a home recording for Rich (Bill Murry) over the loud-speakers at an army camp. The touching message—Bill’s grandchildren singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,”—evoked more emotion than when The Monuments Men actually found art. Though Clooney’s character Frank narrates at times in reflection about the group’s connection, there is little demonstration of the deep camaraderie the audience craves between characters.
The Monuments Men is evenly paced, and the camera angles are traditional and well-done. A particular scene where the men rise up a mine elevator uses a dramatic, panning close-shot that artistically frames the men’s disquieted expressions. Most other scenes are standard though, and expected from Clooney whose Ides of March similarly lacked action and feeling.
Cultural importance is the movie’s over-arching theme, demonstrated with its close on a young boy in an art museum narrated by Frank’s voice-over. The concern is that The Monuments Men’s work, which resulted in death for two members, will go unnoticed and unappreciated. This story sheds light on efforts to save history, something that is informative and essential for students, whom with budget cuts these days are losing school opportunities to participate in the arts. The lack of nudity, gore, and dark subject matter qualify this PG-13 movie acceptable for a middle school class trip.
A good story with a decent delivery makes The Monuments Men just okay. Greatness was prohibited by lack of climax, lack of emotional tie to the characters, lack of character connection, and lack all around. The masterpieces found by The Monuments Men are diminished, much like this mild film’s potential.