Despite the absorbing subject matter and talented cast, ‘The Monuments Men’ is a complete dud. It’s based on a true story that follows a platoon of art historians commissioned by President Roosevelt to track down countless masterpieces stolen by the Nazis and return them to their rightful owners. The tone of the film clumsily meanders from slapstick comedy to the atrocities of war. This is George Clooney’s baby who stars, directs and co-writes the screenplay with his producer buddy Grant Heslov. It’s a well-intentioned attempt to honor the brave men who saved the Rembrandts, Picassos and Michelangelos from the Third Reich. Unfortunately, ‘Saving Private Rembrandt’ turns into a boring mess at its core.
Clooney plays Lieutenant Frank Stokes in charge of a band of brothers played by Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Bob Balaban and Jean Dujardin. Cate Blanchett rounds out the cast as Claire Simone, based on the real-life art curator for Paris’s Jeu de Paume museum. Her character is pivotal but eventually her role gets relegated as a flirtatious French woman in an awkward romantic dinner scene with Damon’s James Granger. The rest of the performers are burdened with one-dimensional characters that prevent the audience from showing any sympathy to their plight. There is a scene where the men go through basic training that is meant to be funny but never delivers the punchline. The films constant search for laughs takes away from the seriousness of the platoon’s mission. Furthermore, you never get to know the characters well enough to feel the emotional impact when one becomes a fallen soldier.
The film is supposed to be about ‘the greatest treasure hunt’ in history. After a quick introduction of all the characters, they are split up across Europe to hunt down clues about where the art work is hidden. Many scenes have nothing to do with their goal. The central question posed in the film is whether anyone should risk his own life trying to save a masterpiece? The answer would be an emphatic yes if the audience had a chance to look at these great works of art for more than a split-second. The suspense is lost when the story heads off into too many subplots. There are so many irrelevant moments. When Murray and Balaban team up, Murray goes to the dentist. It adds nothing to the story. When Goodman and Dujardin team up, Dujardin gets out of the jeep to admire a horse. Again, it fails to move the story forward. Another unnecessary scene is when Damon’s character steps on a landmine and the guys are joking about why he would do such a thing.
In all fairness, Clooney has had some solid directorial efforts with his previous films, ‘Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,’ ‘Good Night, and Good Luck,’ and ‘The Ides of March.’ This is precisely why it is so startling that ‘The Monuments Men’ turns out to be such a misfire. He had the right formula for box office success – a winning cast, a nostalgic premise and hidden treasure. It would have worked better as a heist thriller. The motley crew races against the clock to save the Madonna of Bruges sculpture from the clutches of Der Fuhrer. Instead, you are desperately looking at your watch praying they find those hidden masterpieces before you fall asleep. Check out the official trailer http://youtu.be/CreneTs7sGs.