‘The Monuments Men’ Has Been Drained of Personality

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HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 1.5/5.0
Rating: 1.5/5.0

George Clooney’s “The Monuments Men” is processed cheese. It is a film that has been rewritten, edited, and refined until it has lost all sense of purpose or identity. There’s no flavor left. It is a film that defies genre; not quirky enough to have a comedic personality despite a cast that almost always supplies edge and not engaging enough to work as drama or thriller. With awkward editing that belies a long post-production, a frustrating screenplay, and a cast that looks as bored as you will be at times, you may not see a more star-studded disappointment this year.

In a horrendous bit of narrative framing that feels added post-test screenings, Frank Stokes (George Clooney) explains the impact of war on art to a receptive President Truman near the end of World War II. While the focus clearly needs to be ending the conflict and saving as many lives as possible, there is reason for concern that the world’s greatest art will be destroyed, either in the process of combat or in waves of purposeful destruction at the end of the war. And there’s reason to believe that Hitler’s SS is stealing art, not just from the Jews they murdered, but from churches and museums around Europe. Art belongs to us all. And it needs to be returned to its rightful place. Truman agrees but men can’t be sacrificed. Stokes will have to go and he’ll bring his most art-loving colleagues with him.

The Monuments Men
The Monuments Men
Photo credit: Sony Pictures

Over the course of a clever opening montage, Stokes assembles his “Stokes’ 7” for this mission – James Granger (Matt Damon), Richard Campbell (Bill Murray), Walter Garfield (John Goodman), Jean Claude Clermont (Jean Dujardin), Donald Jeffries (Hugh Bonneville), and Preston Savitz (Bob Balaban). At the absolute BEST, each of these characters gets a lonely character beat. Preston is easily aggravated, especially when his Private status is brought up. Donald used to drink and longs for some sort of redemption from what he feels is a life wasted. And, well, that’s about it. Rarely, have actors with as much personality as Goodman, Damon, and Murray been used as such pawns; such bland characters. If it were not for the A-list talent playing them, these characters wouldn’t stand out from the crowd of soldiers with whom they sometimes travel.

Making out a little better in the personality department is Cate Blanchett as Claire Simone, the Frenchwoman who helped Granger track down some of the art stolen by the Nazis. Blanchett’s sheer charisma and the distinction of being the only woman in the cast allow her to shine a bit but even her scenes with Damon can be remarkably frustrating in terms of narrative and character. When one considers the potential of a WWII drama with Damon and Blanchett trading dialogue, it’s amazing how flat the result ended up being. So much of their dialogue is plot-driven – Granger suspects that Simone has important information but she doesn’t trust him – that when the characters finally shine through the narrative, one hopes the film will finally find a little heat. Spoiler alert: It doesn’t.

The Monuments Men
The Monuments Men
Photo credit: Sony Pictures

“The Monuments Men” was supposed to be released at the end of 2013 and the delayed post-production is up there in nearly every over-edited beat. Dialogue scenes will end mid-thought; fades will be too abrupt or too late; tonal shifts are jarring. Editor Stephen Mirrione is one of the best (he’s a regular Soderbergh collaborator on films like “Contagion” and “Traffic,” as well as Clooney’s “Good Night, and Good Luck”), so I have to believe this disaster was due to tinkering by producers given too much time to refine their work. If one edits and re-edits a piece too many times, they are often blind to the fact that they’ve buffed all the personality out of it.

Although, it feels like “The Monuments Men” never completely worked and most of its deadly flaws can be traced back to its script. The narrative is bizarrely thin and lurches from tone to tone when it’s not being incredibly self-serious. Stokes will give a speech about the importance of art and then the same beats are hit via narration (both likely accompanied by a bit of three-piano-key treacle from Alexandre Desplat). We get it. It’s an important mission. Now, why don’t you show us that fact instead of telling us? And, while you’re at, try and make it entertaining.

“The Monuments Men” stars George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Hugh Bonneville, and Bob Balaban. It was written by Clooney & Grant Heslov and directed by Clooney. It will be released on February 7, 2014.

HollywoodChicago.com content director Brian Tallerico

Content Director

Bill Moller's picture

What a delicious put down

Such a vehement pan…I almost wanna go see it to compare notes.

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