Release Date: 14th February 2014 (Ireland)
Running Length: 118 minutes
Cast: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray
Director: George Clooney
Screenplay by: George Clooney & Grant Heslov
Cinematography: Phedon Papamichael
Studio: Columbia Pictures/Fox 2000
Clooney displays a surprising penchant for what can only be described as flag porn.
As any Eddie Izzard fan will already know, in his youth Hitler was a painter and fine art enthusiast before developing a remarkably successful career as a hatemongering, mass-murdering fascist dictator. Part of the Nazi campaign to wipe out free thought and individualism involved the seizure of countless works of art by the old masters from Europe’s churches and museums. The modernism movement was anathema to the Nazi ideology; Picasso, Dali and Klee were labelled “Degenerate” and had their work destroyed. Thankfully, Hitler’s plan erect a proposed “Führermuseum” filled with plundered art went unrecognised, but a directive to destroy his swag in the event of his death raised the possibility of these irreplaceable pieces being forever lost. With the approval of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Lt. Frank Stokes (George Clooney) assembles a squad of museum curators and art historians tasked with the recovery and return of these masterpieces. In the closing days of World War II, Stokes’ company closely followed the front lines of the Normandy landings and Battle of the Bulge, attempting to rescue and protect treasured artworks and sculptures before they were destroyed in the German retreat.
So, Raiders of the Lost Art, if you will.
Hard as it may be to believe, The Monuments Men is George Clooney’s fifth film as a director. With films such as Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002) and Good Night and Good Luck (2005) he has proven to be a more-than-capable filmmaker, but sadly he has nothing new to offer here.
The Monuments Men is a very, very safe movie indeed. Clooney’s attempt to allocate equal screen time to every member of an impressive ensemble cast results in none receiving the attention that they deserve. Cate Blanchett’s French Resistance agent is particularly underused, but ultimately the audience is not allowed to spend enough time with any of the characters to invest emotionally with them. This problem is compounded by too many moments of unnecessary exposition, which feel like being cornered by a tour guide and deflate any dramatic momentum.
The end result is a movie which feels strangely empty. At times it sails dangerously close to over-sentimentality, and Clooney displays a surprising penchant for what can only be described as flag porn. On numerous occasions the Stars and Stripes is fetishized in prolonged slo-mo shots, accentuated by a swelling, emotionally-manipulative musical score. It rehashes many clichéd tropes of the war film, but manages to twist them sufficiently to avoid lapsing into parody. In the aftermath of the suffering and unprecedented loss of life, the Army’s lack of support for Stokes’ mission is understandable, but the objective is admirable and the intention noble. By far the most interesting element of The Monuments Men is the philosophical argument on the role of art and culture in the formation of a national identity. This aspect of the film works well, but it’s not enough to hide the structural problems.