The Monuments Men is cute. It probably shouldn’t be cute, or if it should be cute, it should somehow be more cute. But it’s fairly fubar. The film’s got very little dramatic momentum since it can never find a tone and also because its scenes try to skip over the drama or do whatever it can to avoid it. It’s competent. It’s occasionally well-acted. Some aspects of the writing are okay though maybe not. It’s not an incompetent script when it comes to the scenes, the film’s just edited in such a way any scene with attempts at character development completely flop because no one has a character.
The film is about the Allied efforts to recover fine art after the Germans stole it during World War II. George Clooney—in addition to directing, co-producing, and co-adapting—is the ostensible lead. He’s the one who presents the idea at the beginning, then he ceases to have any dramatic relevance. But basically he puts a team together and they try to save Art History 101 from Hitler.
The team is a reasonably eclectic bunch of recognizable actors, including Matt Damon to ensure some box office, Bill Murray because Clooney (very wrongly) thinks Murray can make something out of a nothing role, John Goodman, Bob Babalan, Jean Dujardin as the French guy, and Hugh Bonneville as the British guy.
Performance wise… Bonneville’s the easy winner, then probably Cate Blanchett as Damon’s contact in Belgium, then Damon, then Dujardin, then… Goodman? Murray and Babalan are supposed to be beginning an unlikely but beautiful friendship and have zero chemistry together. Like, there are some okay sight gags with Babalan but… they’re sight gags. They’re way too easy and Babalan is clearly not trying. Murray seems actively bored (it’s kind of hard to blame him) but Babalan’s a close second for disinterest.
Everyone else tries. Though Clooney’s phoning it in, which is a big problem since he’s occasionally narrating and gets some monologues you’d think he’d want to do at least another take on, both as an actor and the director.
Dimitri Leonidas plays their translator. He’s good.
The film pairs off most of the cast—Damon and Blanchett, Goodman and Dujardin, Murray and Babalan—for a bunch of adventures, sometimes involving recovering the art, sometimes bad, lengthy jokes, sometimes danger.
But it’s all kind of trite, something Alexandre Desplat’s score annoyingly reminds every few seconds. With some exception, the entire cast is interchangeable. Their specific art history jobs don’t even matter.
And while it’s obviously based on true events… only one of the characters hasn’t had his name changed so it’s not based on true events enough anyone would want to be accountable for historical accuracy so Clooney and co-writer, co-producer, and cameo co-star Grant Heslov really should’ve found some drama in the film.
Though Clooney’s missing a lot. Like any sense of scale. In addition to being incapable of directing the ensemble cast.
Monuments Men seems like a project where everyone decided it was “good enough” at some point without ever finding “good.” The plotting—you can’t even say the script because it’s hard to believe cause and effect escaped Clooney and Heslov so something must’ve gone wrong later—but the plotting is meandering, pedestrian, and amateurish.
A good score could’ve probably held it together, but Desplat’s score is not good at all and it works against the film.
If it weren’t for Clooney being such a multi-hyphenate on the project, you’d think he was forced to do it under contract.
And that end cameo is a big fail. It’s “cute” but pointless and ineffective. Just like the movie.