A World War 2 film about saving art, directed by George Clooney, starring the man himself along with Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, John Goodman, Bill Murray, Jean Dujardin, Hugh Bonneville and Bob Balaban. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, the film was delayed out of Oscar season and and received a dull critical reception (52 on Metacritic, 34% on Metacritic), which would indicated that quite a bit did. However, I don’t think that’s entirely the case so here are 6 reasons why The Monuments Men isn’t mediocre (but not fantastic either).
1. The Cast
Quite possibly one of the best cast assembled outside of Oscar season (though it was originally intended for it). Every single one of the actors can carry a film all on there own, they overflow with charm and are all hugely compelling to watch. It’s a smart decision, as the film requires them to be split up and because the film isn’t all that long there isn’t much time for backstories or dedicated character building (they’re closer to archetypes than characters), so it relies on the actors to pull you into their immediate stories instead. For the most part it works.
2. The Subject Matter
Art is important. It’s important to culture and as Clooney’s character states in the film, you can destroy a people’s heritage if you destroy their art. As such the story is absolutely fascinating, from the inception of the group to their ultimate results in the war effort. Sure, it isn’t completely historically accurate in its details, but the sentiment still remains.
3. When It Gets There It’s Really Good
The film has some messy tonal moments. Frequently it goes for a few too many jokes and many of them just aren’t that funny. That’s not to say that there can’t be joy in a film that takes place during WW2 (there are a handful of warmer, funny moments that absolutely work here), just that sometimes they just don’t hit. However, when the film gets to its emotional moments; character deaths, significant events, the ending, it nails them practically every single time.
4. It’s Not Just Another World War 2 Movie
The Monuments Men isn’t just Saving Private Ryan with paintings instead of Matt Damon (err, wait…). And that’s a good thing. The film avoids making the conflict feel small, they’re split up between several locations for large stretches of the film. Wisely they don’t pull a Forrest Gump either. The team lands in Normandy after the invasion and the closest they come to being part of anything groundbreaking is a night spent in a camp close to, but not in, The Battle of the Bulge. Heck, they only learn that the war has ended by happenstance from a soldier loitering on the side of the road. Which is smart because the story can stand on its own without inflated significance.
5. Alexandre Desplat’s Score
Desplat is an immensely talented and diverse composer. Here he brings the WW2 trumpets which sound exactly as bombastic as they should while also delivering great lower key themes. Great work.
6. Jean Dujardin’s Smile
Seriously. Just look at it! He barely speaks for most of his role and yet he’s erupting charisma everywhere he turns his pearly whites. And it’s even better in motion! In fact, the film on the whole looks pretty much impeccable (Nebraska’s Phedon Papamichael handles the cinematography).
The Monuments Men is a flawed film, George Clooney’s worst directorial effort (Leatherheads not withstanding), but still one worth seeing for its fascinating subject matter. There are a few to many comedic beats that don’t hit and are unnecessary resulting in weird tonal issues. The film is also a bit scattered, resulting in a nagging feeling that it might have been better suited as a Band of Brothers-style mini-series. But it’s still a pretty good film. However it could’ve been so much better. Amazing even. And that missed chance does sting.