The story covered in “The Monuments Men” is an important one. Films that give credit to deserving, unsung heroes are such a noble and gratifying effort from filmmakers. However, in the completely capable hands of George Clooney and Grant Heslov, the film falters.
The pair, who have delivered stellar films like “Good Night, and Good Luck” and “The Ides of March,” have been unflinching in their portrayals of news anchors and politicians, but in a film about the brutality of World War II they flinched.
During the later years of World War II, a group of men who have come to be known as “The Monuments Men” worked to find, protect and preserve artwork and monuments that would be in the path of destruction of the Germans.
Despite the phenomenal story and a cast of A-Listers that included Clooney, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Bob Balaban, Hugh Bonneville, Jean Dujardin and Cate Blanchett, the film fails in almost every other aspect.
Academy-Award nominated screenwriter Grant Heslov offered up a poorly organized and terribly written screenplay. His reliance on forced sentimentality and humor cause the entire film to become weighed down. Even worse, there is too much reliance on hitting plot points, rather than leaving room for the story to unfold organically.
It almost seems as if there was no effort to even make the film bearable. The characters were incredibly thin on development and emotion, and the entire film is scene after boring scene, all split up by dissolves and patriotic music.
The characters of the film were used to further the plot, rather than offer a view at the brutality of the war. They gave us no reason to care about them, except the nobility of their mission, which is not enough. Whenever a character is killed, you would expect for it to be an emotional blow. But we never get the time to mourn them, or even have the opportunity to mourn them.
However, in this cast of fine actors, John Goodman may have given the best performance of them all. Without the proper character development to create a full character, he draws on heavy emotions and proves again that he is an actor not to be reckoned with.
Alexandre Desplat, who provided the score for the film and is currently nominated for his work in “Philomena,” essentially ripped off every score for any given war film or patriotic work of historical fiction. Again, there was too much sentimentality when there should have actually been an underscore of the action.
Although his screenplay was poorly written, it was also poorly realized. Clooney’s direction further muddied the plot. Every decision made was overly convenient — there was no struggle and no stakes.
The entire film was unrealistic with mistakes amuck. Despite being shot at with several machine guns, a man is only hit once. Small touches that are the sign of a great director are absent, even the qualities of a competent director are missing.
With such a powerful and talented team, you would expect that “The Monuments Men” would be a phenomenal film. There is such a rich story and so much room for cinematic excellence, but it was painful to watch so much potential go to waste.
In all, nothing worked. Everything from the cinematography to the script to the music felt ingenuous, and combining all of these elements left the viewer unsatisfied and disappointed.