‘The Monuments Men’ a solid, but unfulfilling venture into war and art

Despite its absorbing story, “The Monuments Men” never quite picks up narrative momentum.



David Vendrell, Writer

George Clooney’s fifth directorial outing continues his fascination with the intersection of art, politics and history. But, this decidedly Hollywood-prestige wannabe about “the greatest treasure hunt in the world” fails to reconcile a proper tone or pick up narrative momentum.


“The Monuments Men” follows Frank Strokes (George Clooney), who is tasked by President Franklin Roosevelt to put together a rag-tag World War II platoon to go into war-torn Europe to recover artistic masterpieces stolen by the Nazis and return them to their rightful owners. Lieutenant Strokes puts together a seven-man crew of art historians, museum directors and curators — who know more about Renaissance paintings than firing guns — to go with him behind enemy lines.

The newly-minted Monuments Men are in a race against time since the losing Nazi army has ordered the destruction of 1,000 years of culture before the Allies can reclaim it. Is saving art worth risking their lives?


“The Monuments Men” has incredible elements to it: a unique narrative spin on a popular setting, an all-star ensemble, Oscar pedigree creatives and a true story of triumph. Unfortunately, Clooney cannot reconcile these together in a captivating whole.

It begins at the screenplay written by Clooney and his co-writer Grant Heslov. By adhering straight to the events that unfold, we lose the essence of a cinematic story. Events move from one to the other without understanding consequences or feeling the stakes, so the audience never feels caught up in the momentum of the action. It feels flatlined.

This is greatly amplified by the lack of character growth. The film fails to address why most of the characters care so much about art or why this mission is monumentally important to them. We never understand the psychology of the characters or see how they evolve throughout the story. This keeps us at arm’s length and ultimately uninvolved. It’s a shame because the actors are all game, but there’s nothing in the material that ever challenges them.


The second big issue comes from Clooney’s approach as a director. The film aims for a tone between a comedy and drama, but the film is neither funny enough nor dramatic enough to make much of a mark. The two tones always seem to be clashing, with the comedy underwriting the power of the narrative — it seldom feels natural.

The movie works best when bypassing the cleverness of the gags, and allowing for true sincere moments to shine on screen, such as the scenes between Matt Damon and Cate Blanchett. If the film had decided to let such a tone permeate the whole, it could have had much more of an emotional impact.

This is not to say that “The Monuments Men” is a total failure. There is a joy to seeing this great ensemble on screen — even when the second act keeps them apart — and the true story narrative is fresh and intriguing. It is disappointing to see a film that has so much potential squandered by lackluster execution.


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