Review: ‘The Monuments Men’

George Clooney returns to the directors’ chair in his latest art-heist thriller The Monuments Men. Expectations are high, but can Clooney maintain his excellent track record?
Directed by George Clooney, 118 minutes.

It’s bizarre how few people realize George Clooney is a fine director; his chef d’oeuvre being Good Night and Good Luck. The man is something of an icon – he’s a sharp actor, a smart screenwriter, a discerning director and a pretty boy, let’s not forget.

The Monuments Men had to be brilliant: a stellar cast, an intriguing premise and Clooney behind the reigns. Right? Wrong.

When the Fuhrer decides to steal most of France’s great art, Lt. Frank Stokes (George Clooney), Lt. James Granger (Matt Damon), Lt. Jean Claude Clermont (Jean Dujardin), Sgt. Walter Garfield (John Goodman), Sgt. Richard Campbell (Bill Murray), Pvt. Preston Savitz (Bob Balaban) and eventually Claire Simone (Cate Blanchett) take it upon themselves to steal it back for the sake of future generations. Cue cheesy voiceovers, mawkish melodies and an oversimplified script that could have been an engaging narrative…

One of the war comedy’s biggest crimes is that it does not take advantage of its talented cast. Sadly, Murray and Balaban – both brilliant actors – are relegated to secondary roles: namely, the stereotypical bumbling duo. This becomes tiresome as Clooney and his co-writer/co-producer Grant Heslov insert them into sequences merely for comic relief, rather than as a way of progressing the plot. By the end of the picture, one is glad to be relieved of them.

The only characters that do advance the narrative are – unsurprisingly – Stokes, Granger and Simone. In other words, the three prolific A-List actors. Damon stumbles through the picture, reciting Clooney’s painful gags – in this case, we are made to laugh at his poor French – over and over and over again. Goodman, Dujardin and Hugh Bonneville loiter around the narrative adding, well….what exactly was the point in including them? The mind boggles.

Similarly, the entire picture feels like one big bad joke, peppered with sentimental narration. The story’s history is, um, brushed over and we’re left with the unfunny scraps. Clooney and Heslov really ought to have known better; if one is making a comedy, one has a responsibility to make it at least mildly amusing.

It is interesting to note that Clooney seems to cope better with serious political fare: think The Ides of March or the aforementioned Good Night. This is ironic given his penchant for practical jokes and his comic demeanour. A more relevant use for Monuments’ poorly structured story may have been a daytime television series: Dad’s Army, anyone? The man maybe one of the highest grossing actors of all time with $1.56b to his name but I believe he’s finally slipped up with this turkey.

Give it a miss, folks.The-Monuments-Men

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