The Monuments Men

The Monuments Men

It’s World War 2 in occupied Paris, which means the Nazis run everything. Bad news: the Nazis like art and they’re grabbing all the good stuff for themselves and running off with it. Parisian art scholar Claire Simone (Cate Blanchett) isn’t happy about this. Neither is US art historian Frank Stokes (George Clooney, who also directs), who delivers a lecture to FDR about the threat posed to the art of Europe by Hitler’s proposed giant museum. Clearly they’re Nazis and everything they do is evil even when it’s just a giant museum, so FDR gives Stokes the thumbs-up to form an Ocean’s 11-style gang of art specialists to go into and save the art from both Nazi destruction and the invading Soviets, who are taking everything that isn’t nailed down and shipping it back home.
If this seems a little muddled, bingo; plus, we spend a whole bunch of time watching Stokes put his team together, which is usually the fun part in this kind of film, but here it tends to blunt the idea that this is an urgent threat they’re responding to. If you’re trying to stop someone from stealing something, taking a few months to go through basic training does suggest you’re not that worried.
At least Stokes’ team is a good one: there’s curator at the Metropolitan Museum (Matt Damon), a sculptor (John Goodman), an architect (Bill Murray), an arts impresario (Bob Balaban), a French art dealer (Jean Dujardin) and a British art expert trying to redeem his shady past (Hugh Bonneville). But no sooner is the team together than Stokes splits them up and sends them across France, making much of the middle third of the film a mess, jumping from storyline to storyline with no real sense of urgency or drama.
This looks good, the cast turn on the charm, and most of the military stuff is accurate. But all too often this is just plain boring, and that’s a fatal flaw even in a film as well-meaning as this one.
Written by Anthony Morris