Monumentally Disappointing

By Ygal Kaufman

monuments_menGeorge Clooney is the ultimate trailer guy. I don’t mean you should buy an Airstream from him, just that Clooney-directed films always have trailers that look amazing. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002), Leatherheads (2008), and Ides of March (2011) all had trailers that had people predicting Oscars, or at least buckets full of money. All of them were okay, but mainly disappointed in that they just didn’t live up to their wild-looking trailers. 2005’s Goodnight and Good Luck was an exception; that film was tight, small in scope, and executed with confidence.

Depending on which version of the trailer you saw, Clooney’s latest directorial entry, The Monuments Men, which arrives on DVD and Blu-ray this week, is either a knee-slapping comedy or a serious and suspenseful war drama. Both versions got me all revved up. It basically looked like Indiana Jones meets Ocean’s Eleven with a dash of The Dirty Dozen in there.

It was none of those things.

The film recounts the adventures of the titular Monuments Men, a division of art historians and collectors sent to the front lines of World War II to recover and protect the massive amounts of art and historical objects stolen by the Nazis. Hitler decreed that if the Allies were to catch up to his retreating troops, they should burn the art in their wake rather than allow it to be captured by the enemy.

This is indeed a wonderful premise, and more should have been done with it.

First the good: the cast is excellent. John Goodman, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban (of Christopher Guest & Co. fame), Hugh Bonneville (of TV’s Downton Abbey), and Jean Dujardin (of the fantasies of every woman in Europe) all sparkle in underused supporting roles. They were billed as something of a middle-aged comedy dream team, and they don’t disappoint. The problem is there’s too many of them and none of them gets enough room to work.

Now the bad: nearly everything else. Matt Damon and Clooney both come off as lazy and useless, essentially reprising their roles from Oceans, only, if possible, with even less gusto. Cate Blanchett plays a confusing French character who resides on the outskirts of the script, providing the film’s love interest seemingly only because one is needed.

The script is shoddy at best, belaboring the theme that art = history = culture to the point that I wanted to take a flamethrower to the Mona Lisa just to shut Clooney up. And more importantly, it seems to forget that conflict is actually a necessity in an interesting film. Here, they name a piece of art they’re looking for, walk into a church, and lo and behold, there it is. No enemy in their way, not a second of doubt they’ll succeed. There isn’t a single moment of suspense, and even fewer laughs.

The movie is summed up by the “climax,” which features them racing to clear a mountain mine of priceless relics before the Russians arrive. Spoiler alert: they don’t really race, they find everything they were looking for (by randomly lifting a blanket at one point), and hightail it out of the mountain with days to spare.

This movie has the excitement of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, the laughs of an obituary section, and the good looks of… George Clooney.

One out of three isn’t bad…