The Movie Waffler New Release Review - <i>The Monuments Men</i> | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - The Monuments Men

A special unit of Allied troops search for stolen art during World War II.

Directed by: George Clooney
Starring: George Clooney, Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Bob Balaban, Jean Dujardin, Hugh Bonneville

It's World War II, and the Nazis are busy stealing art from every corner of occupied Europe. Concerned about this aspect of Hitler's activities, US Army Lieutenant Frank Stokes asks his superiors for permission to assemble a team of specialists to track down stolen art and return it to its rightful home. Permission granted, he recruits a variety of experts, including sculptors, painters and architects. Meanwhile, in Nazi occupied Paris, Claire Simone (Blanchett), a suspected French Nazi collaborator has been keeping track of the movements of newly acquired Nazi art, something that will prove invaluable to Stokes and his men, who have come to be known as "The Monuments Men".
Watching George Clooney's latest directorial outing, I came to understand how it must feel to be one of the many Model/Actress/Whatevers we constantly see on the perennially tux-clad actor's arm: If only he could commit! For many, the central premise of The Monuments Men will be a hard sell. At a time when over 60 million people are in the process of losing their lives, should the preservation of art really be a priority? It's a question Clooney and his co-writer Grant Heslov don't seem equipped to answer. On the eve of beginning their mission, Stokes tells his men that no piece of art is worth one of his men's lives. Later though we're repeatedly told how art is indeed worth sacrificing lives for. "You may wonder if (insert random work of art here) was worth the sacrifice made to preserve it," Stokes repeatedly tells us in voiceover. "Please sir, we need to clean the auditorium," the theater staff tell you, interrupting the deep slumber this snoozefest has sent you into.
Whether or not you believe that the preservation of art is worth sacrificing human lives for, Stokes' argument that art should belong to the people doesn't really hold up in the context of mid-twentieth century Europe, when most art belonged to either the Catholic Church or the continent's elite and royalty, much of it stolen in the first place. Near the end of the film, with Clooney suddenly realizing his film sorely lacks something resembling a dramatic plot, the Russians are turned into the villains as they attempt to take some art they half-hitched from the defeated Nazis back to Mother Russia. Matt Damon's Lieutenant James Granger argues that maybe, having suffered 20 million casualties (and ultimately making the greatest contribution to the defeat of Hitler), they deserve a few nice paintings to cheer themselves up. Stokes is having none of this argument, of course. Had the Russians taken the art back to the Soviet Union, it would at least have been on view to the people. But obviously not the right people in Stokes/Clooney's view.
Clooney does his best to turn this story into a Kelly's Heroes style caper but the script is devoid of any of the required dramatic elements. If you've ever had the misfortune of watching an episode of the bizarrely popular TV reality show Storage Wars, you know what to expect. Clooney's film consists of various secret Nazi hideouts busted open as our heroes take pot luck at what plundered works of art lie inside. "Oooh it's a Picasso," coos John Goodman. "I've got a Rembrandt over here," squeals a delighted Bill Murray. "I should have stayed at home and watched Antiques Roadshow," groans the audience.

Eric Hillis