Monuments Men


Directed by George Clooney
Starring: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Cate Blanchett
Review: 2.5 stars (of five)

There’s nothing wrong with Monuments Men that George Clooney trying harder couldn’t have fixed.  The film looks good, and any two minutes of it might seem like a slice of the interesting, well-made historical adventure/drama it should’ve been.  But Clooney, who directed and cowrote, can’t find the right tone, can’t really build an interesting through-line to make a longer historical story resonate as a tightly contained cinematic experience, and falls back on speechifying in really obvious cliches to invoke dramatic power he has otherwise failed to conjure in this story.

Worse, he doesn’t seem interested in telling the accurate story of the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives program, yet hasn’t managed to make a better movie by disregarding history.  (Example:  This film makes it seem that there were about seven Monuments Men.  There were about 400 in the program that sought to recover art stolen by–and in danger of being destroyed by–the Nazis.)

Upsides to this film:

  • Though it’s more than two hours long, which is too long, it doesn’t feel so bloated as you watch it.
  • It reminds us of a fascinating and often overlooked slice of WWII history.
  • Even underused, John Goodman and Bill Murray are a pleasure to watch.
  • By virtue of coming out in early February, it’s almost certainly the best film of 2014 so far.

I really like George Clooney.  I like him as an actor, I like his choices in films, I like his approach to an artistic life in a commercial industry, and his approach to celebrity.  I root for the guy.  But a failing of his is being too laid-back, too glib.  Coasting on the smile, you know?  This film coasts on the smile, and there’s little reward for the viewer.