The Monuments Men hits Berlin cinemas on February 20.
In Clooney’s written, directed, and acted The Monuments Men the considerable talents of Clooney and Matt Damon, plus John Goodman, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, Hugh Bonneville and Jean Dujardin, are used to play soldiers brought together during the latter half of WWII to find to restitute art stolen by the Nazis to its places of European origin. The point being that the Russians had their own trophy brigade to find art, but decided to keep what they found. But as Matt Damon’s character points out: their war cost 20 million casualties… entitling them, apparently, to hang on to the odd Rembrandt.
An iffy equation, especially bearing in mind one of the film’s opening sentences: that no work of art is worth a human life. A sentiment relativized pretty quickly when the first good men go down for the greater good of saving Cezannes and Michelangelos for posterity. Thereafter, so the implication, there’s additional ‘real’ unfinished business to take care of.
In addition to fudging sentiment and ethics, the film has two principal failings: it moves too smartly from boot camp in the UK, to occupied then liberated Paris where Résistance fighter Claire (Blanchett) joins the struggle, on to Bruges, Ghent, Aachen, and onward to various underground sites used by the retreating Nazis to store the treasures for the planned Führermuseum in Linz. There’s no time to develop empathy – in a story that absolutely depends on the sympathy factor. Then there are tonal insecurities: trying to establish the heroic “chaps, sports and fellows” Dambuster atmospherics with actors known for deadpan comic work (Balaban, Goodman, Murray) is just a bad fit. Too often, it feels as though the film can’t bear to choose between appropriate gravity and the wasted wisecracking potential lurking behind the furrowed brows of its heroes. A more minor point is the film’s tendency to switch locations that latterly all look rather similar (rubble, rubble, toil and trouble), requiring a lot of labelling and batons pointing at maps.
George Clooney has a directorial reputation to safeguard. (Ides of March, Good Night and Good Luck). After this, it may require a little restitution of its own.
The Monuments Men | Directed by George Clooney (USA, Germany 2014) with George Clooney, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, John Goodman, Bill Murray. Starts February 20