Despite flaunting a stellar cast and being based on an inspiring true story, “The Monuments Men” is a disappointing, unsatisfying film with a serious case of an identity crisis.
The movie follows an unlikely World War II platoon that’s made up of artists and scholars who are tasked with going into Germany and rescuing precious art stolen by the Nazis. The message of this movie is noble. Art is important and sometimes, art is worth dying for.
Despite having this fascinating story to work with, “The Monuments Men” doesn’t have a very genuine plot. As the men travel from one location to another, most of the film becomes expositional. With particularly strong characters and relationships, some movies can get by without an overarching narrative. Unfortunately, “The Monuments Men” isn’t one of those movies.
With George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Bob Balaban and Cate Blanchett playing major roles, there’s clearly an abundance of talent. But for incomprehensible reasons, most of that talent isn’t used.
After the men set out on the mission to retrieve the art, they immediately split up and travel to different locations. These drastically different subplots make the film feel incredibly disjointed. For example, Matt Damon and Cate Blanchett seem like characters in a strange romantic drama. George Clooney and Hugh Bonneville act like they’re in a dramatic period piece.
“The Monuments Men” never decides what genre it wants to be. Though everyone involved seems to appreciate what this film has to say, they can’t overcome the issues. Clooney in particular, who also directed the movie, seems passionate about the message. He gives it his all as his character fights for the right to save art, but often his dialogue is sickly sweet and overly sentimental.
Despite the film’s downfalls, there are brief moments of promise. Murray and Balaban make a perfect pair and stand out above other characters. Murray’s portrayal of his character is comical and light. Balaban’s is uptight and stressed. They bicker constantly, but they also go to extra lengths to make each other happy. Perhaps the best thing to come out of “The Monuments Men” is the realization that Murray and Balaban could make a great buddy comedy.
Even with chemistry like Murray and Balaban’s, each character is painfully underdeveloped. They don’t get backstories and other than the fact that they are artists and scholars themselves, the reasons for their involvement in the mission are unclear. In fact, by the end of the film, viewers will likely have a tough time remembering the name of even one character.
With a weaker cast, this wouldn’t have been nearly as disappointing. But with actors of this caliber, who work so well together, “The Monuments Men” is little more than a whole lot of wasted potential.