I approached The Monuments Men with a bit of trepidation. I’m not the hugest fan of George Clooney, the director. I love the politics of his films. I love the intentions of his films, yet I don’t love the films. To me they’ve come across as a bit preachy without the cinematic chops.
That said, I looked forward to a war movie about art and the importance of art in society an culture. What’s not to like about that premise? Ultimately, The Monuments Men experience was an odd one. Am I glad I saw the movie? I guess I am. The story, about an international troop of artists and art scholars trying to save European classics from the hands of the Nazis was not a story I was familiar with. I learned a lot. But the movie? Oy, what a mess.
It was a movie that could not figure out what it wanted to be. The tone and tenor of the piece was all over the map. A plucky, feel-good 50s war movie? A witty, rapacious comedy a la MASH? An emotional, Spielbergian drama? It was a real mish-mash of styles that sadly never found its footing.
The editing was equally sloppy. There was lots of narrative confusion. In the big picture, characters are spread out over Europe on certain missions, yet they continually rendezvous and meet up. As a viewer there’s no sense of timeline. Did those missions take days, weeks? Why do they reconvene only to spread back out again? Was there a purpose to the rendezvous other than to have all the stars back together again? And many individual scenes also seemed devoid of finesse, leaving potentially dramatic scenes flat and uninspired. I don’t want to hand out any spoilers, but one particular scene that was poorly handled was a scene in which a main character dies. I’ll only say that there was basic narrative confusion as to the set up of the death, the circumstances of the death, and ultimately no drama to the death.
The film was devoid of tension, which is just not acceptable for a war movie. There should have been tension. The Nazi occupation of France, the Nazi retreat and their scorched earth policy, the brewing showdown between the Americans and the Russian, death on the battlefield. All those plot points are broached in the movie, but none seemed particularly urgent.
A frustrating film to be sure. At the end of the day, I felt like I often do when I see well-intentioned docs that aren’t well put together. I’m glad I saw it, but I just wish there was more art in the filmmaking.