Monuments Men

February, 2014, Drama


Monuments Men

Movies rarely succeed without good screenplays; no matter how talented a cast may be, characters simply cannot “come alive” if the audience can’t believe in the words coming from their mouths. Bad acting can ruin a good script - - but great acting seldom rescues a poor or mediocre one. And therein lies the crux of the problem with this fitfully entertaining but never impressive tale of the unique team of WW II soldiers assigned to locate, preserve and restore stolen Nazi art treasures to their rightful owners in the waning days of the war.

Writer/director (The Ides of March, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind) and A-list actor George Clooney co-wrote this screenplay with Grant Heslov, with whom he penned the brilliant script of (Good Night & Good Luck) but in attempting to pare down the complex story of saving The West’s cultural heritage to movie length, they’ve fashioned dialogue that never gets below the surface of the individuals involved. Nor do they do justice to  the sophisticated detective work required of the diverse personalities drawn this dangerous task.

That aside, Clooney’s star power surely drew the distinguished cast assembled here; Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Bob Balaban - even France’s Jean Dujardin (The Artist) & England’s Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey) are enlisted to convey the multi-national team that raced through Germany in the final days of The Third Reich to salvage as best they could the fruits of a gigantic, institutionalized theft of Europe’s finest art treasures.

Since the actors are never given lines which illuminate the individuals they portray, the audience winds up watching “star turns” – (Goodman’s bluff bonhomie, Murray’s frozen facial expressions) which make for occasionally pleasant scenes but never compelling drama. Monument Men emerges as a series of sketches reminiscent of Saturday Night Live rather than a gripping story of men and women who quite often risked their lives to preserve what they considered irreplaceable components of western culture.  The movie winds up trivializing their quiet heroism, the exact opposite of what the gifted Clooney clearly intended. He gets kudos for trying, but boos for the results.

The Verdict? A fascinating subject reduced to clichés by an excellent cast struggling with a consistently boring script.

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