Loosely based on the non-fiction book “The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History,” Monuments Men is the story of a unit of Allied soldier during World War II, who were assigned the task of tracking down all the great art works the Nazis plundered from the lands they conquered and to save them from destruction as the war came to a close and the desperate Nazis were destroying or hiding these things to cover their tracks.
On the other side of the story is Claire Simone (Cate Blanchett), a French museum curator who has been forced to assist Nazi Viktor Stahl as he finds and steals great art for Hitler and his cronies like Goering. Her brother is a resistance fighter who seems to specialize in stealing these items back.
Why This Film Didn’t Work
The film received mixed to negative reviews. The Guardian said there were too many characters and the film never felt satisfying because it sent them all off to do little tasks, which often weren’t that interesting. The consensus at Rotten Tomatoes was that the film has “noble intentions” and a great cast, but they couldn’t overcome the “stiffly nostalgic tone and the curiously slack dialog.” Some Spanish rag called it “Hollywood war propaganda.” Yeah, leave Hitler alone, Hollywood! On the other hand, Rolling Stone liked it, calling it a movie about “aspiration” and “a proudly untrendy, uncynical movie.” Talk about true irony! Rolling Stone peddles pure cynicism and always has.
The Family, which I reviewed recently, and with most of Clooney’s other recent films. Look, I like Clooney and I want to like his films, but in film after film it feels like he thinks that the concept itself is strong enough that he doesn’t need to offer more than his character walking through the film, discovering the concept and then acting upset or outraged at what he discovered, see e.g. Syrianna, Burn Before Reading, The Men Who Stare at Goats, Solaris, Michael Clayton, etc. These are all films with great concepts, solid casts and much promise, but they underwhelm as they end up more like a series of vignettes rather than real plots, and they rely on the audience feeling shocked that such things exist rather than feeling entertained by the plot.
For starters, as noted by the critics, there are too many characters for us to focus on which characters to care about. They try to make up for this by giving us actors who come with a history of goodwill already in place. This includes guys like Bill Murray and John Goodman and Clooney himself and Matt Damon. But liking the actors doesn’t compensate when I can’t tell you who the characters they played are or what they did. Moreover, I have to say that my goodwill for Murray and Damon is long gone and my goodwill for Clooney is waning.
The end result of this is that characters you don’t know or care about follow tips that seem to fall from Heaven and are always right to go pick up treasures with no genuine obstacles standing in their way. That’s not exciting... it’s not interesting. I honestly suspect that a documentary would have managed to be more exciting than this film turned out to be, and that’s sad.