Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

February 13, 2014

A-list cast best part of 'Monuments Men'

By Ryan Maddux
Daily News

---- — Ryan here. Andy is out of the office, so I will be taking a break from the Oscar contenders and focus my attention on George Clooney’s latest directorial effort, The Monuments Men (PG-13).

In this World War II caper, a platoon of art experts are assigned the task of saving stolen European art from the Nazis. The all-start casts includes Clooney as well as Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin and Bob Balaban.

Originally, The Monuments Men was supposed to be a late-season Oscar contender-of-a-film, but Clooney stated that he needed more time with the special effects and also with establishing the right tone for the movie. And there’s something to be said for that.

In a post-Saving Private Ryan/Band of Brothers cinematic world, audience members expect/want their World War II films to be gritty, dark and realistic. And while that mindset has inspired some great cinema, I don’t think that every movie set during this time period should be presented in the same way.

It’s clear to me that Clooney was trying to execute a film similar to those great action-adventure World War II films from the ‘60s such as The Great Escape, The Guns of Navarone and The Dirty Dozen. While those movies might seem out-of-date to many audience members, there is a timeless quality to them that I believe Clooney was trying to recapture.

The problem and bottom line is that The Monuments Men is not a great film. It has the ingredients, specifically an amazing cast, but the director is not able to recapture the magic of that bygone cinematic era. He is also unable to visually state what he wants to say.

Most everyone agrees with what Clooney is lecturing about in the movie, but the film would have been more effective showing the audience about the importance of art and culture instead of telling us. Tonally speaking I do think Clooney strikes the one he wants, but maybe as a detriment to that ultra-concentration on the issue, the rest of the film suffers from not being as fleshed out as it could have been.

The characters are mostly enjoyable because we like the actors playing them, but we don’t know much, if anything, about them. The story tries to use a specific piece of art as its McGuffin to propel the story along but that narrative strain is not there from the onset and ultimately that strategy feels forced by the end of the film. Additionally, it seems that the scope of the movie is too big and there’s not a lot of direction to where the story goes. Midway through the film the casts gets divided up and there’s not a lot of thought in how to intertwine those stories. It has a very haphazard pace that is not desirable.

The film is far from a complete wash, though. The A-plus cast do have their moments — more specifically the pairing of Murray and Balaban. There are a couple of very strong scenes in the film involving the characters of Murray and Balaban and those scenes do leave a lasting impression. But ultimately there are not enough of those kinds of scenes in the movie.

In the end I do think the film has merit. It’s very earnest in its desire in stating the importance of art in our culture. That notion is appreciated; I just wish the film itself was a more artistic endeavor in proving its point. Final grade: B-.