The Monuments Men

By on February 16, 2014
Monuments Men

“The Monuments Men” is one of those grounded-in-historical fact stories that, when you hear about it, you automatically think: hey, that would make for a great movie. This is that movie, and while not perfect, it’s nothing if not always watchable. How could it not be, with a cast that includes George Clooney (who also directed and co-scripted), Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray, and John Goodman?

“The Monuments Men” revolves around a group of mostly past-their-prime military recruits tasked with getting a line on and retrieving as much as possible of the priceless art looted and stashed in various places throughout Europe by the Nazis when they were winning World War II. It’s an oddball premise, and it’s one that lives and dies by the casting, really, and who else but Clooney could rally the sort of troops involved here, a near-perfect mix of seasoned veteran character actors (i.e. Bob Balaban and Hugh Bonneville) and crowd-pleasers like the aforementioned talent.

Clooney also gives recent Oscar winner Jean Dujardin his first significant American role since winning for “The Artist” in 2011 (save a bit part in “Wolf of Wall Street”); as well as providing a bit of younger eye candy for the ladies in the form of Dimitri Leonidas (TV’s “Sinbad”) and giving one to the old man, Nick Clooney- as an older version of himself, no less! All concerned are just fine, easily and capably filling in the blanks of the characters given to them as only they can in quite the same way.

For instance, what a joy to watch two amusingly mismatched vets like Bill Murray and Bob Balaban vibe off of each other as the team you never knew you were missing out on. Or Goodman and Dujardin, an American and Frenchman unwittingly walking right into the line of fire between the good guys and the bad guys to revel in the beauty around them before realizing how deceptive that quiet beauty can be before turning ugly. Or Blanchett taking married man Damon’s breath away- and ours- as she brings her A-game to a seductive dinner/Intel meeting. The film is filled with moments like this, each one more entertaining or emotionally poignant than the next.

And yet, as competently made as all this is, I do get why the film was postponed until this year, after initially being posited as Oscar bait. It’s just not that kind of movie, despite all the talent involved. It’s more of an indie film disguised as a big-time Hollywood blockbuster, one that just happens to have top-tier talent involved, as some indie films are wont to do, from time to time. Sure, this one cost some 70-million to make, so it’s hardly that indie, but it nonetheless feels that way, coming off more as a character study/history lesson than anything else.

That’s not necessarily a criticism, just an observation for those expecting perhaps bigger fireworks, given the level of talent involved. In other words, it’s less “Ocean’s”-whatever than sort of a defanged “Inglourious Basterds,” more suited to a, shall-we-say, higher-skewing audience, age-wise. There’s nothing here that’s going to challenge anyone’s notions of what is acceptable when it comes to a film of this type. It’s safe, and palatable-to-the-general masses, you know what I mean?

Unfortunately, it’s also what makes it difficult to really recommend on a must-see level. It’s the kind of film you want to give two ratings to. Like, if this subject matter interests you, then you’ll probably like it well enough, and for that crowd, I’d say it rates about a B+. Nothing spectacular, but nothing revelatory, either.

For those going for the star power, on the other hand, I’d have to say it rates about a C+ at best, even while everyone in it is perfectly great at what they were brought in to deliver. Everyone shows up, does what they were hired to do and that’s about it, you know what I mean? Nothing more, nothing less.

That doesn’t make it a bad film, just a so-so one. Sometimes solid doesn’t mean must-see worthy. It happens. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a right to exist. I may not be jumping up and down about how great it was, but I certainly don’t regret seeing “The Monuments Men” and I suppose that’s better than nothing. Lord knows, it could have been worse. But it also could have been a lot better, and therein lies the rub, as they say. What are you gonna do?

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About Mark Trammell

Mark Trammell is the resident entertainment critic at UAB, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where he is also a Graduate Student and does a vid-cast movie review show. He is a life-long fan of films and has a pretty whacked-out, all-over-the-place movie collection that would give most sane people pause. He loves horror movies and Disney flicks and isn't entirely sure there is a difference. He one day hopes to put his money where his mouth is and inflict his own perverse vision on society, entirely so that he can tell people who ask: "If you think you can do better, why don't you make a movie yourself?" to shut up.
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