Producer/Director George Clooney’s World War II romp, Monuments Men, hits DVD and Blu-Ray shelves on May 20 like the Australians hitting Omaha Beach on D-Day! . . .Okay, the Australians actually missed that boat, but Monuments Men on the other hand. . . . Well, boats are tricky things to catch. Case in point, Clooney’s true-story epic plays like a marooned collage of undramatic, unfunny and unengaging episodes that seem torn from Reader’s Digest anecdotal “Humor in Uniform” column.
The story involves a team of aging art experts recruited by Clooney to retrieve purloined art marked for destruction by Hitler in his final days — a sort of Ocean’s Eleven without the personality or tension.
When one military commander after another tells our entreating heroes,“I’m not about to lose even one of my boys to save a historical landmark,” the Monuments Men just stare back dumbly and walk away, unable to provide a single persuasive reason to care. Unfortunately, that problem describes the movie itself. There is no emotional investment here, either in the characters or the story.
The fault lies with the writer and the director. The movie never establishes a value for the art that resonates with either the military or the audience. We are told the heroic experts value art beyond life itself but their emotions and actions leave us unpersuaded.
Most annoying is Matt Damon’s wussy character, the troop member ordered to extract vital information from a snarky French museum curator (Cate Blanchett). Her secrets could save the plundered artworks and possibly some American lives. Inexplicably, Mlle. Snarky prefers to allow the Nazis who killed her brother to keep all the stolen art for their own personal profit, private enjoyment — and even destruction — rather than allow it to be possibly put on display in an American museum.
Even more inexplicably, Matt Damon politely declines to take advantage of her wrongful incarceration or his military authority and coerce her into cooperating before time runs out. He instead patiently and politely waits for her to have a change of heart and voluntarily reveal her most private secrets. (When she finally does, she of course volunteers even more private treasures to her patient human puppy since he is, after all, Matt Damon.)
Ironically, although Monuments Men seems a paean to the clichéd war movies of old, the film even fails to deliver on many of the clichés it wrenches from their celluloid graves. In one scene, John Goodman’s character pops in to announce he has secured a truck despite the difficulty of doing so in a war zone. Clooney looks up: “Do I want to know how you did that?” Goodman chortles as if choking on a pie: “No, you don’t. Heh-heh,” and disappears. Heh-heh, indeed, Big John. That must have been one hilarious incident — evidently just not hilarious enough for the movie to depict or even recap. Director Clooney leaves it to the audience to fill in its own clichéd commandeered truck scam.
Sadly, whatever is not missing from the film is depicted in such lifeless, abbreviated fashion. The fault lies in Clooney trying to include too much trivia and show too much reverence for the real soldiers involved. By focusing too much on paying the soldiers homage, he obscures the emotional heart of their story. That reverence ironically does them the greatest disservice of all because their history is indeed a good tale for the telling. It just needs a better telling.
Check out the trailer at