During World War 2, it becomes evident that the Nazis are not only collecting countries, but famous pieces of artwork too. Not only that, but if Hitler is killed he has ordered that some of the hoarded pieces will be destroyed as well. In order to prevent this, a small team of art experts – none of whom are overly fit for duty – are sent in to retrieve and save the art.
Back in January, The Monuments Men was one of my most anticipated movies of 2014. In fact, it was number 3 on a list of 50 films, being bested by only The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies (then known as There and Back Again) and Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. Why was Monuments placed so high? Three reasons; the story, the cast, and the trailer. I’m a fan of war films, specifically those set around the Second World War. The Great Escape is usually found in the Number 2 slot of my all time favourite films, and the likes of Bridge on the River Kwai and Saving Private Ryan aren’t often that far behind. Also, I’m a big fan of heist movies such as Inside Man, The Italian Job (the original) and Ocean’s Eleven (the remake). The Monuments Men seemed to be a perfect blend of the two, involving what I assumed would be several small art-themed heists under the noses of unsuspecting Nazis, leading up to one big score, possibly right behind Hitler’s back.The cast is amazing, and seems to have been created purposely just for me. George Clooney is the lead (and the reason I’m writing this review, as I’m still attempting to watch and review all of his movies), and as the director he’s surrounded himself with the likes of Matt Damon, John Goodman, Hugh Bonneville, Jean Dujardin, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray and Bob Balaban. Damon, Bonneville, Dujardin and Blanchett are all great, and the involvement of any one of them will increase the likelihood of me watching a film, but when you cast three actors whom I love in pretty much anything they’ve ever done – Goodman, Murray and Balaban – well then there’s just no way I’m not seeing that film. However, such a stellar and eclectic cast could be considered the film’s biggest problem. The three actors I highlighted are all renowned for their comedic work, as sporadically are Clooney, Damon and Dujardin. Couple this with the trailer, which featured a lot of larking about amongst the group, and you’ve promised me a comedy. Not only that, but scenes of these old, unfit, quip-happy gents undertaking basic training were peppered throughout the promotional material, so I went and got my hopes up, expecting the best part of the film’s first hour to be spent showing the guys bonding with one another and gradually improving as they traversed obstacle courses, basic combat and parachuting practice. Alas, the total training montage takes place once Clooney and Damon’s characters land at the base and walk through, saying hello to each man. Then we’re done. This film is a disappointment based on a lie, and for that I’ll never forgive it.
OK, so I can’t necessarily blame the film for promising me something I ultimately didn’t get, but I can blame it for trying to be too many things. With the cast, camaraderie and relatively light-hearted nature of the over-arcing plot, at least in comparison to most other war movies, this desperately wants to be a comedy. However, due to some unfortunate events that befall the team, it doesn’t remain comedic for very long, and regularly takes turns not just for the sombre, but the downright depressing. Bill Murray crying in the shower may be deeply moving, but it doesn’t belong in whatever this film is trying to be. Add to that a bizarre quasi-romantic sub-plot between Damon and Blanchett’s characters, some dramatic entanglements with Nazi soldiers and the occasional cock-blocked action scenes which lead up to a promised climax before altering the plot at the last moment to justify them not taking place, and you’re left with a frustrating mish-mash. I got the feeling that Clooney was trying to rigidly adhere to the real-life story of these men, but in doing so he hindered himself cinematically. Perhaps it would have made for a stellar documentary, but as feature films go it left me wanting.
Acting-wise the real stand-out is Blanchett. Apparently on set Dujardin was left speechless at her impeccable transformation into a French woman, in every sense of the phrase. At this point there’s really no doubt in her acting abilities, but I still feel the need to praise it where applicable. Unfortunately the rest of the cast aren’t given as much to do, and are all playing their own nationalities. None of them perform badly, but they’re not really given the chance to shine either.
I think the main issue here is that I just didn’t get what I wanted. Had the team not spent so much time splintered into smaller groups, or they’d each had a specific Ocean’s Eleven-style role or character-trait, then perhaps this would have pleased me more. I could at least have done with more bickering between Murray and Balaban, or for Goodman to actually have had something to do. As such, it claims the moniker of 2014’s biggest disappointment. I suppose it’s my own fault for having such high hopes, really.
Choose life 5/10
It sounds like the expectations game wins here. I was expecting something much closer to what I got and as a result I was quite pleased. You made some valid points about character development. All of them could use a little more.
My expectations should have been a little tempered, given all the other reviews I’d come across, but I was still just hoping everyone else was wrong and the film would actually be as good as I wanted.
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