"The Monuments Men" (2014)

The Monuments Men (2014)
Directed by: George Clooney
Running time: 118 minutes

It actually astounds me that this film was not released in time for Oscars season. This film has “Oscar-Bait” written all over it! It’s set in World War II for crying out loud, that’s basically a slam dunk! OK, that wasn’t really fair, but my point is is that this kind of film is definitely the kind of one you see competing for that Best Picture Oscar. The World War II thing, the passion for the arts in the story line, the cast; it all seemed to be gearing up for award season. Ah well, maybe next year! “But Tom,” you say, “was The Monuments Men actually any good?!” Geez, you’re a needy lot, jumping straight to the point! Here you go then:

Now Showing this week is The Monuments Men, directed by and starring George Clooney. Based upon the book of the same name, The Monuments Men tells the story of a group of allied soldiers who, towards the end of World War II, were tasked to locate and rescue/protect the immense collections of artwork that Hitler and the Nazis had stolen during their campaign. Clooney plays the leader of this group of aged heroes, along with Matt Damon, John Goodman, Bill Murray, Jean Dujardin, Hugh Bonneville and Bob Balaban. Plot-wise, that is really all there is to it! The Nazis stole lots of art, these guys have been sent to get them back, and they need to find out what they did with it first. And I guess it doesn’t need to be any more complicated than that, as it is based upon true events and if that was how simple the actual situation was then there we go!

With this simplistic premise to work with, the real goal that the filmmakers had to go for was to have great characters. I believe that they succeeded, with each member of the “Monuments Men” group being such a diverse character, and all of them immediately likable. They all seemed to pair up nicely in terms of conflict, Murray and Balaban in particular providing some of the best comedic moments of the film. The cast of the film was generally great all around, although I couldn’t get Robert Crawley out of my head as I watched Bonneville play the alcoholic Donald Jeffries. Didn’t hurt his performance too much, but still felt a little like he couldn’t escape the role! Cate Blanchett features in the role of a French resistance fighter, and she performs admirably as always. Her role in the film did feel a little unnecessary and perhaps was there just as a reason for some romantic tension between her and Damon. Regardless, I would say that the performances from such a great cast were as good as one would expect from them.

I don’t really understand what issues other critics had with The Monuments Men that led to it’s lukewarm reception upon release. I try not to read other critics prior to writing so as they don’t influence my opinion too much, but I did notice a large amount of them giving mid-range scores to this film and it left me wary of seeing it. I acknowledge that The Monuments Men isn’t a revolutionary film; it didn’t challenge any ideas of storytelling, nor did it knock my socks off in terms of script or acting. But what I did get was a well told thriller/comedy that was punctuated with some genuine moments of grief, and that is not something to be scoffed at. I definitely would not say that it is worthy of the Best Picture Oscar I said it seemed like it would be vying for, but it is not a sub-par film by any stretch of the imagination.

The only real criticism I had was the way in which the current political climate was sort of twisted into the story. Specifically I’m talking about the representation of the Russians in the film; that even though at this point in history they were on the side of the Americans, they were still portrayed as the bad guys. Granted, in the story they were competing with the Americans to find some of the artworks, but they were always shown in ominous ways and it was a little overdone.

Bottom line, don’t let the lukewarm reception turn you off seeing The Monuments Men. It isn’t a ball-tearing cinematic masterpiece, but I had great fun with it thanks to the great cast and a thrilling premise. We may be heading into the lull period of good movies between Oscar Season and the American Summer blockbusters, but there are always a few gems among them. The Monuments Men is definitely one of them!

See you next time!

Follow me on Twitter: @tomdheath
Also listen to me on Unnatural Selection for more rantings and ravings.

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