It’s always puzzling and a bit of a shame when a perfectly competent director makes a sub-par film. George Clooney’s latest endeavor The Monuments Men
is therefore somewhat of a disappointment with a haphazard script, disjointed story line, and stilted dialogue. Still, there are aspects that redeem it just enough to recommend watching anyway.
This is mainly because Clooney being Clooney has managed to gather the most tremendous cast to support his wannabe heroic venture about real life heroes. There are the likes of Bill Murray who plays Sgt. Richard Campbell, Matt Damon as Lt. James Granger, John Goodman as Sgt. Walter Garfield, Jean Dujardin as Lt. Jean Claude Clermont, Hugh Bonneville as Lt. Donald Jeffries, and of course George Clooney himself as Lt. Frank Stokes. This quite stellar cast makes up the Monument Men who are a group of art experts and historians who are charged by the American President (Roosevelt) to try and preserve the millions of art works looted from Europe by the Nazis, a move catalysed by Hitler in particular who dreamed of opening his very own Fuhrer Museum.
There are many vignettes involving retrieving masterworks such as the Ghent Altarpiece – a religious panel painted by Jan Van Eyck, stolen from the Cathedral at Ghent, a Madonna and Child by Michelangelo which is looted from Bruges, and scores of other artworks by Vermeer, Renoir, Cezanne (to name just a few) that have been removed from the private houses of Jews, and numerous other public spaces.
Particularly striking also is the storyline involving Claire Simon (Cate Blanchett) a French curator who has made copious notes on art works and their provenance (history of ownership) as they pass through her helpless hands on their way to Nazi storehouses. At first reluctant to handover her invaluable notes to James Granger, fearing that the Americans will requisition the art works for themselves, she finally relents after witnessing the Monument Men’s actions.
This is a film about the historical value of art and the importance of preserving masterworks for the coming generations. It is a little sad, then, that a film with such lofty ambitions, while being perfectly watchable, fails in creating feelings of neither fervour nor commitment regarding this quite crucial issue – even with so much in its favour.
I would recommend going back and watching some of Clooney’s earlier films – in the past he has made gems like Good Night, and Good Luck (2005) about Edward R. Murrow the famous American broadcast journalist who stood up to Joseph McCarthy during the 1950s, and The Ides of March (2011), which deals with the moral corruption inherent in any kind of politics.
The Monuments Men meanwhile will remain as a strange blip in what will hopefully be a long and successful career for Clooney as a thoughtful and talented actor-director.