Is it possible fight for a special cause without it destroying everyone around you in the process? That's part of the premise behind the DVD release of "The Monuments Men," which followed a small group of soldiers fighting to save priceless artifacts that could never be replaced. Okay, the premise sounded promising but the lackluster pace nearly ruined the whole thing in the process.
"The Monuments Men" followed seven men from various career fields who were tasked with finding numerous stolen works of art that were taken away by the Nazis from various museums and homes of private collectors. Frank Stokes (George Clooney) was tasked with the dubious task of finding classic pieces of art done by such artists as Rodan and Picasso, which were taken to be used to further the Nazi party. If the allied armies were too close, the Nazis would destroy the art to make sure that they wouldn't get it. Stokes chose men for very different reasons, even though they would make the unlikeliest of soldiers. He relied on James Grainger (Matt Damon) to gather information from Claire Simone (Cate Blanchett) who had very personal reasons to want the Nazis to lose. James and Claire also had a strong connection that could spell trouble for James' family life back home if he allowed anything to happen. Frank was aware that potential casualties could happen, but the one that hit the hardest was that of Donald Jeffries (Hugh Bonneville) who died to save the Madonna statue. The older members of the Monuments Men proved to be the most valuable parts of the group as they worked equally hard to save stolen art. Preston Savitz (Bob Balaban) and Richard Campbell (Bill Murray) proved to be the best of friends, even though they had a very rough start. Can Stokes be able to save as much art as his team can or will he die trying?
In terms of questions, the movie posed a few because the story wasn't the usual wartime movie that was told, even though it seemed to stray away from the usual war stories. The movie also seemed to take on a version of "Ocean's Eleven" set in World War II because some of the players were similiar and the movie's very breezy tone between the cast. The movie's first scene between Damon and Clooney seemed like it straight out of another "Ocean's Eleven" sequel, but it was in a good way because the scene helped to establish on the on-screen rapport between the characters. It also seemed as if the dialogue was slightly improvised on a few occasions based on Damon and Clooney's efforts not to crack up on camera. Despite the fact that the cast seemed to get along pretty well, the movie's main flaw was that the story took way too long to set up the movie's main heists to get back the stolen art. Most of the movie set up a few brief scenes where the art was recovered. If the scenes were spread throughout the movie and expanded, the story would have had a much more stronger build-up. The movie also spent too much time on the interaction between Blanchett and Damon's characters that some of the cast members were often left out in the cold, such as Jean Dujardin and John Goodman. It's a shame because Goodman brought some strong comic relief after some of the movie's saddest scenes. Dujardin also appeared in the movie far too briefly and wasn't given much of an opportunity to shine, except for a few scenes with various cast members.
As for breakout performances, Damon and Clooney led the pack for very different reasons as their characters were part of the same cause for with very diverse purposes in mind. Damon's Grainger was all about compassion and believing in something greater than himself, which was how the character persuaded Blanchett's character to help him make sure that the Nazis lose a lot of artwork. He embodied Grainger with a sense of moral intellect that made him something worth rooting for, even though he sometimes missed any signs of danger. There was one scene where the character stepped on a landmine and could've been killed in the process if it wasn't for the help of his team. Damon's strongest scene came when he found a stolen piece of art and returned it too its rightful owner when he was fully aware that they were probably never coming back home to collect it again. Clooney had the more challenging task of trying to be the right on-screen leader without overlooking his prior success at playing the dashing rogue. He was successful for the most part, but it also made it hard for viewers to be convinced of the character's true purpose in the mission that was never clearly defined other than a love for art. Clooney's strongest scene came when he recovered a piece of stolen art that he spent much of the movie searching and his character risked getting nearly captured by the Russians to save it. An honorable mention should go to Bonneville's performance as the flawed hero who took a risk that was never going to pay off, but his on-screen demise was greatly felt over the course of the movie.
Verdict: Clooney and Damon deliver charming performances, but the story's rather sluggish pace threatened to derail everything before it began.
DVD Score: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Movie Rating: PG-13
1 Star (Mediocre)
2 Stars (Averagely Entertaining)
3 Stars (Decent Enough to Pass Muster)
4 Stars (Near Perfect)
5 Stars (Gold Standard)