The Monuments Men
In the midst of WWII a small group of art experts are commissioned by Roosevelt as soldiers and sent to the European theater to protect historically important buildings and monuments, and to locate vast troves of priceless art looted by the Nazis.
© 2014 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. and Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved.
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Fact-based adventure with a few bloody battle scenes.
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Tomatometer®reviews counted: 20see all The Monuments Men reviews
Top Critic Reviews
Rotten: Clooney's movie is a slow-witted, occasionally agreeable retread of numerous WWII band-of-brothers flicks its director no doubt watched on TV as a 1970s teenager.
- Andrew O'Hehir, Salon.com, Friday, February 7, 2014
Fresh: If The Monuments Men never overcomes its unwieldy structure and unevenness of tone, the film still manages to make a profound, even subtle point: that Hitler's darkest impulses and annihilating reach extended from human beings to history itself.
- Ann Hornaday, Washington Post, Friday, February 7, 2014
Rotten: There's lots of information, some nice images, plenty of earnest sermonizing about culture and almost no suspense, or tension, or character development, or structure. Or, well, art.
- Bob Mondello, NPR, Thursday, February 6, 2014
An all-star cast, a true-life tale that incorporates a treasure hunt, a race against time, Nazis, and fish-out-of-water tropes as non-soldiers are placed in harm's way, plus the skills of George Clooney behind the camera; in short, how could this go wrong? With that plot makeup and this cast it would take more effort to tell a boring big screen adventure of the real-life Monuments Men (and women). And yet, the movie found a way. It's by no means a bad film and its heart is in the right place, but allow me to explain why The Monuments Men sadly fails to live up to its mission. It's 1944 and Adolf Hitler doesn't just have his sights on constructing a permanent empire, he wants all the world's art treasures as well. The Nazis have been plundering famous works of art, and while the war is coming to a close with the Allied invasion, the fate of these priceless works of art may be in jeopardy. Frank Stokes (Clooney) is tasked with putting together a team to save Europe's art from the Nazis. He puts together an unconventional group of soldiers (Matt Damon, John Goodman, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, Jean Dujardin, Hugh Bonneville) and search for the hidden loot. The film looks like it's going to be a high-concept heist film when it reality it's a series of vignettes that do not add up to a solid whole. Early on, the Monuments Men team is scattered to the wind, divided into pairs, and so we have four or five competing storylines that don't develop as desired. To be fair, there are some very good scenes, well executed and written by Clooney and Grant Heslov (The Men Who Stare at Goats) where the conflict is turned up, but the film cannot escape the fact that it feels more like a series of scenes than a cohesive story. Not all of the stories are equal in their interest as well. The Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine) and Damon storyline in France amounts to little else than her stalling for as long as the plot necessitates, then handing over the Very Important Info, then she's swept aside. The comical asides, notably with Murray and Balaban, feel like scene fillers when there could be stronger material. Once they're reunited as a group, you wonder why we even needed the time apart. Perhaps it's an attempt to showcase a wider sampling of stories and perspectives on a complicated war, which is fine, but the characters don't get the same complicated examination. Despite physical descriptors, these guys are fairly one-note and stay that way, which is a real shame especially when we start losing Monuments Men. The attention is split amongst a bunch of characters lacking proper development. If I felt like we knew these guys on any substantive level, I would feel more at their untimely passing. Another issue that exacerbates the directionless feeling pervading the film is that it lacks a clear and concise goal. I understand they're saving and rescuing art, but that's kept vague until the very end of the film when it becomes more concrete. Until then, the guys are just traveling from place to place, retrieving this piece or that, having comic misadventures, and the movie just feels like it needs a stronger guiding force to corral all these stories, a concise goal that each scene builds onto and where the urgency increases. Late in the film, I got a glimpse of exactly what kind of movie Monuments Men could have been. Once the war is over, the Germans are replaced as antagonists by the Russians (two-for-two with classic American movie villains) and it becomes a race against time to get to the art before the Russians confiscate it. There was always a ticking clock in the film, as Hitler was assembling his art and his command would destroy them in spite of returning them. However, in the very end of the film, the urgency is cranked up, made real, and for once the film emerges with a sense of suspense. I think it would have been a more engaging film experience if the scope of the film were narrowed simply to the material covered in the climax, namely beating the Russians to the art reserves. It practically has a Raiders of the Lost Ark feel with two parties trying to outrace the other to the next precious treasure. How cool would that movie have been? Another problem is the film's seesaw tone never really gels together in a satisfying manner. The film awkwardly switches gears from drama to comedy to action without smooth transitions. Clooney wants his film to be a comical buddy comedy but also a poignant remembrance of the lives lost so that we can enjoy our great treasures. Clashing tones take away from the effectiveness, making us feel that Clooney didn't feel confidant with either direction to make a movie. Alexander Desplat's overbearing musical score instructs the audience what they should be feeling at any given moment. It vacillates without similar transitions informing you with little transparency that you should feel whimsical, now sad, and now heroic, now go back to whimsical. The entire film, from a story standpoint to a technical standpoint, cried out for a greater sense of unity. Then there's the question of whether art is worth people giving up their lives, and this is a valid question that deserves consideration. I was never in doubt what Clooney and company would say to this ethical query, but it's as if Clooney has little faith in his own audience. He gives three separate speeches about the significance of art and culture and why it is worth dying for. I expected one hefty speech, but three? It's like Clooney is afraid his audience will waver when blood starts to be shed, and so we need to be reminded by the professor why art is significant to mankind's value. The point has been made; it doesn't need to be belabored. The film even ends on recycling this debate, with Clooney putting one final stamp of judgment before the credits roll. One gets the sense while watching The Monuments Men that it would make a better documentary than a fictional feature film, at least this incarnation of a fictional film. Hearing from the men who lived it will be far more interesting than watching the comic squabbles of Clooney's crew through Europe. I was instantly reminded of an engrossing documentary from a few years ago called The Rape of Europa, which looked at the subject of saving the arts from Hitler, not specifically the Monuments Men. That documentary was filled with so many different fascinating stories, I remember thinking that any one of them could have made a stellar movie. Monuments Men is further proof that a sharper, more contained focus would be best rather than trying to tell as many war stories involved on the topic. Clooney has proven himself an excellent director and despite his film's faults it's still an entertaining film in spurts. I just think we all expected better given the pedigree of talent involved and the can't-miss quality of the history. Nate's Grade: B-
- mrbungle7821, Tuesday, February 11, 2014
Granger: You want to go into a warzone and tell our boys what they can and can't blow up? Stokes: That's the idea. For all the great things The Monuments Men brought together in an effort to make an exciting war picture, with a good-natured twist, the film certainly felt pretty lifeless and dull. I tend to make it no secret that I am happy to embrace the marketing of films, in an effort to get me excited for them. A well cut trailer and a solid list of actors and talent behind the camera is plenty to have me happily anticipating a film. The Monuments Men had all of that and even after the film switched from its awards-friendly release date in December to February, I was still prepared to give the film the benefit of the doubt that I would at least find it quite enjoyable. The problem, as it turns out, is that screenwriter/director George Clooney and his co-screenwriter/producer Grant Heslov could not find a way to make this particular WWII story into something with more dramatic weight. There is a good cause being fought for, which is different than the norm in a war movie, but even with A-list talent, the results felt rather inert. read the whole review at thecodeiszeek.com
- DrZeek, Wednesday, February 5, 2014
Ever since the credit crunch broke six years ago, there have been clarion calls from the artistic community in Britain about the need to preserve funding for the arts. Social media has been awash in recent times with 'I Value The Arts' twibbons and Winston Churchill's widely misquoted line. Contrary to popular belief, he did not say "then what are we fighting for?" when asked to cut the arts to support the war, but instead advised that paintings and other priceless works should be buried in caves. All of which brings us to The Monuments Men, a film set in World War II in which the arts are no longer seen as a priority. The film repeatedly proclaims the importance of preserving and celebrating Western art and culture, arguing like contemporary campaigners that they reflect our humanity, our creativity and our capacity for good. Ultimately the film is a flimsy, stuffy affair with none of the current campaigns' dynamism, but it is still enjoyable enough to pass the time. The big problem facing The Monuments Men, as so often in war dramas, is one of tone. It can't decide whether it wants to be a properly dramatic war film like A Bridge Too Far, full of good, honest men doing good, honest things, or a caper film like Ocean's Eleven or to some extent Inglourious Basterds, playing faster and looser with the truth. Only Soldier of Orange manages to somehow balance the two, and this falls far short of Paul Verhoeven's film. Much of the explanation for this lies with the director; in so many ways, George Clooney is no Paul Verhoeven. He's not a bad director, insofar as he knows how to assemble a shot and light a scene in an appealing way. And there's no denying the admirable intentions behind his work, as previously demonstrated in Good Night and Good Luck. The problem is that his passion for an idea or subject matter comes across in a heavy-handed way. Clooney's biggest fault as a director is constantly drawing attention to the message he is delivering, rather than letting the drama speak for itself. In Good Night and Good Luck, he did this by including stock footage of the real Joseph McCarthy ranting about communism. If Clooney were so confident that his film would work as a paean to 'proper' journalism and common sense, he would not have felt the need to have this footage of McCarthy to constantly remind us who the bad guy is. It's much the same story with The Monuments Men, which gives us a compelling thesis and then somewhat squanders it through the kind of didactic scripting that would make Oliver Stone proud. The basic idea is a very interesting one, namely that the artistic values of a culture or nation must not be sacrificed for the sake of short-term political or military gain. But the idea is conveyed less through character development than through characters making speeches about it, with said speeches often interrupting the enjoyable action. The Monuments Men explores an interesting phase of World War II, namely when it became a question of 'when' Germany would surrender, rather than 'if'. With the goal of their united campaign in sight, the different Allied nations were already looking ahead towards the potential fall-out of the surrender. There was a big race to be the first to reach Berlin, which through a series of unfortunate events eventually led to the Cold War. Arguably military leaders were more ruthless in this period than at any other period during the war, as epitomised by Hitler's own Nero Decree. Seen through this prism, the film is a document of the nobler side of Man's nature in extremis. While it's sympathetic towards the ends of the Allies, it challenges the means by which Germany is being defeated. Clooney's men are seen to be fighting for a higher cause amongst the short-term barbarism of the field commanders. Matt Damon's character spends much of his time trying to challenge America's image as a careless conqueror, an image that extends from its army to its art collectors. But again, there's a problem. While it is refreshing to have a bunch of characters who are not cynical in nature or in action, they are not written well enough to make them feel like anything more then vessels for speeches. Aside from Damon's relationship with Cate Blanchett and the tragic fates of Hugh Bonneville and Jean Dujardin, it is very difficult to tell the characters apart. Blanchett herself is somewhat off the boil, with her French accent comically slipping on more than one occasion. As a result, it becomes difficult to enjoy The Monuments Men as anything more than an old-school romp like The Dirty Dozen, in which a lot of famous people run around stiffing Nazis and Russians. There is a certain amount of pleasure to be wrought out of John Goodman getting his gun off - just look at his performance in The Big Lebowski. And as a film about older men being put in combat situations, it's a damn sight funnier and more entertaining than The Expendables. The film also boasts better cinematography than many of the old-school romps that it eventually resembles. Phedon Papamichael is best known for his work with Alexander Payne on Sideways and Nebraska, but he also has form in period works, having lensed the remake of 3:10 to Yuma and Walk The Line. Some of the exterior shots are exquisite, such as the wide shot of the abandoned castle or the field in which Goodman and Dujardin are ambushed. Credit should also go to the props department for recreating all the masterpieces that are referenced, including the joint MacGuffins of the Van Eyck altarpiece and Michelangelo's Madonna and Child. Often in war films there is so much collatoral damage that the artistry of a particular building or object doesn't seem to matter, but here we are given the chance to appreciate the craft on offer. The scene inside the castle, featuring all the different sculptures, is one of the highlights in this regard. Ultimately, however, there is only so much that visuals and humour can do to keep a story going. The speechifying nature of the characters reflects the fact that the narrative keeps needing a shot in the arm, being unfocussed and needlessly meandering as it follows the different groups of characters. Like Nixon before it, it is a film of enjoyable moments which struggles to connect them either convincingly or compellingly. The Monuments Men is an admirable failure from Clooney which comes to us with the best intentions and falls well short of expectations. Clooney's right-on credentials aren't in doubt, and as a modern-day take on old-school war films, it's reasonably entertaining. But its lack of character depth, coupled with the odd bad performance, prevent it from being anything more than forgettable fun. You won't rush to destroy it afterwards, but there won't be much call for preserving it either.
- mumby1988, Tuesday, April 1, 2014