By Sandra Kraisirideja
George Clooney has successfully written and directed a few well-regarded dramas, but he has a rare misstep with “The Monuments Men.”
“The Monuments Men” tries to cover a lot of ground, both emotionally and in its subject matter, which gives it an uneven quality.
Set in 1945, just as World War II is coming to a close, “The Monuments Men” follows an unlikely group of men who are given permission by President Roosevelt to go to Europe and save millions of pieces of art that had been stolen by the Nazis for Hitler.
These men (and women) were art historians, museum curators and architects, who had no business in the war, but they risked their lives to protect artwork representing the best of humanity.
In addition to Clooney the movie stars Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Hugh Bonneville, Bob Balaban and Dimitri Leonidas.
It’s a talented cast and everyone does good work, but it does feel the casting was a bit of a shortcut to really fleshing out the characters.
Having a big ensemble cast worked against the movie. It was hard to care about what happened to the characters because the audience is never given enough information about them.
Think about the scene in Michael Bay’s “Armageddon,” where Bruce Willis is tasked with rounding up the best guys for his mission into space. As the men are being rounded up, Willis narrates over the footage with different tidbits about why these guys are the best ones for the job. It’s not a long sequence, but it’s enough to let the audience get a feel for these different men and why they are important.
In “Monuments Men,” Clooney is shown going around to different places finding the different men for his mission, but there is no voiceover or any kind of explanation as to why these guys are chosen. Sure, the characters are shown doing various jobs that gives some hint to what they do, but it doesn’t give the audience an idea of who they are. At least in the sequence in “Armageddon” there was a bit of each character’s personality woven into each introduction.
Clooney wrote the script with Grant Heslov. The original source material was the book, “The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History” by Robert M. Edsel.
Rather than just focus on the treasure hunt aspect of the Monuments Men story, the script also weighs in on Hitler, the Nazis and discreetly acknowledges the millions of lives lost in concentration camps. All of this distracts from the core subject of the movie, which is art and its importance to mankind.
The one thing the movie does well is remind audiences that art is important and worth protecting even in the most dire circumstances. In this digital age everything can feel impermanent and we need to remember that art demonstrates and celebrates the creative spirit.