Based on the book The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert M. Edsel, the film follows the story of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program, an Allied group, tasked with saving pieces of art and other culturally important items before their destruction by Hitler during World War II. Wikipedia
The Monuments Men Reviews
It's evident from the repeated speeches Clooney makes about the value of art and culture that he remains committed to directing popular films that still manage to say something important about the world. But while The Monuments Men has a noble message at its heart, it's just not very satisfying as a whole. A crushing disappointment.
It seems exasperating that with this amazing story -- and, indeed, these stakes -- Clooney couldn’t bring about a rousing, breast-beating, educative motion picture. Such paintings, such sculptures, such little art.
It should have been an effortless performance for a man who has made that word entirely his own in film after film, including a couple directed by himself. Where from then this laborious effort and this creaking film, despite the little-known jewel of a story from the greatest war the planet has seen? The actor-director and co-screenwriter drowns it in not only very cliched characterisations but in very strange and half-hearted flippancy contrasted with amazingly soporific speeches.
Eventually the film feels like a tidy museum piece, too bland to even work as escapist adventure.
It feels like it's only a third act, lacking any buildup of tension or character development. When Stokes solemnly argues early in the film about risking life for the recovery of what he calls "the foundation of modern society," the movie has presented its thesis statement, and settled any debate. Though deadly encounters follow, the nobility of the quest is unchallenged.
The film itself looks terrific, thanks to cinematographer Phedon Papamichael's mostly German locations and a misty, retro-looking palette. Unfortunately, the multiple scenarios make the story-telling a bit unbalanced at times. What overcomes this weakness is the fact that the film makes a profound point in a subtle way - that the Fuhrer's ambitions if left unchecked would have been world-altering, in the most unsettling of ways.
Die hard Clooney fans can make a beeline, the rest can wait for it to hit HBO.
The Train (1964) starring Burt Lancaster had a similar story where the Resistance had to stop and salvage a train carrying precious art to Germany. While that film was an absolute edge of the seat thriller, the flaw with Monuments Men lies with the script which has a bit of action, buddy bonding and the occasional bout of thrill without really digging deep in to any of them.
It's difficult to pinpoint exactly what went wrong with The Monuments Men because it seems to have so many elements going for it – the great cast, the World War II setting, direction by Clooney himself, a decently big budget and Grant Heslov in the producer's chair. With so many positive aspects, it would generally take an awful script to undo a film's advantages but even that doesn't seem to be the case here. The film is not an epic disaster by any means; it's just uninvolving and too lethargic in its pace.
The stars don't shine as bright in this film. The movie shows us some amazing art work and the magnitude of the sacrifice that was needed to save such pieces. Some of the depiction of the paintings and sculptures are sublime. If you enjoy art, then you will enjoy the references to various masters. The movie’s point that to save a generation, lives will be lost however the creations of those people shouldn’t be.
It’s only when the monuments men realize that the Nazis have stashed away the art in various mines that the movie belatedly gets going. The fact that Oscar-nominated cinematographer Phedon Papamichael doesn’t deliver a single artistically composed and lit frame to showcase the fabulous paintings being saved, tells you everything you need to know about this shadow of a sketch of the impact of war on art.
‘The Monuments Men’ has some brilliant scenes coupled with a beautifully mounted production, which keep the movie afloat during times when the screenplay fails you on the overall. Much like the mission in the movie, the intent is good; the execution however leaves a lot to be desired. I’d recommend a watch in the theatres but would also recommend a watch of John Frankenheimer’s, high octane action-adventure, ‘The Train’ (1964) which had somewhat of a similar subject but got all the right ingredients to make an exciting watch.