PHOTO BY COLUMBIA PICTURES
THE MONUMENTS MEN
Where is it playing?: Parks Plaza
What's it rated?: PG-13
What's it worth?: $6.00
George Clooney (Gravity, 8, The Ides of March, Burn After Reading, and essentially everything else) writes and directs this loosely true tale of a band of artists, scholars, and critics who join the war effort to save famous works of art from the Nazis. Also starring Bill Murray, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, John Goodman, and Bob Balaban.
Someone should impose a limit on the number of World War II movies Hollywood is allowed to churn out per year. I mean, we all joke about how Hollywood is out of fresh material, and The Monuments Men serves as monumental evidence of this gripe.
My beef with these movies are as follows: There’s never any place for women in a World War II movie. At least, Hollywood hasn’t figured out how to make room for women in a World War II movie. There’s usually some love interest back home, vaguely referenced, but she’s always more of a prop to emotionally flesh out the real heroes: the men. Case in point: Cate Blanchett’s Claire Simone is the only woman to put in an appearance, and despite her incredible talent, she’s consigned to spitting in a champagne glass and then raving about how all French women love perfume. Oh, and when she’s feeling really sexy, she takes off her glasses. ’Cause that’s never been done before!
Worse still, most World War II movies never have anything fresh to say or contribute. They tend to reinforce or merely repeat what’s been said and done before. And I get it. All the grunt work has already been accomplished over decades of World War II movies. You focus in on a swastika, play some peppy music with lots of trumpets, and we’re going to war, boys! But you’d think a movie essentially celebrating the value of art would aspire to be a work of art in its own right. If The Momuments Men did harbor such lofty ambitions, they never materialized.
Instead, we’re left with a big fat load of unrealized potential, and nothing bothers me quite so much as potential that slumps cozily in an armchair and sleeps off a beer. The Monuments Men was, ultimately, a decent movie. Not great, but decent. Some movies are only ever meant to be mediocre. But a testament to the power and importance of art, an interesting story, and talent including Bill Murray, Dan Akroyd, Matt Damon, and Cate Blanchett demand more than “Well, it was better than I thought it would be.”
The biggest hurdle is that it suffers from really bad writing. The kind of writing that occurs when someone watches too many World War II movies and relies on those rather than the characters to drive the plot and dialogue. Gritty, one-word exchanges better befitting a sitcom than a movie that pulled in this amount of talent. Jokes that were only so-so to begin with that get repeated a few too many times. Insert heartfelt speech. And cap it off with George Clooney’s character, Frank Stokes, recapping the story—which has already been told—in a ridiculously heavy-handed exchange with a member of the president’s cabinet.
It’s no accident that the most poignant moment of the movie occurs when nothing is being said. A record is playing, and Bill Murray (as Richard Campbell) is doing what Bill Murray does best—looking sad and vulnerable and so very, very human—which has nothing whatsoever to do with the writing and directing. And it really is a touching moment. The problem is, after wading through cliché after cliché, such moments were few and far between.
The Paris stereotypes alone were obnoxious. Rather than create a real place, we’re left with champagne, baguettes, a beautiful French woman trying to lure an American into cheating on his wife, and perfume, of course.
Then there’s the fact that we’re watching yet another tale of an unlikely oddball collective—does anyone think about making a movie about a likely collective that comes together to accomplish something, just for a little variety?—but I’m not sufficiently invested in all the characters to care as much as the movie wants me to care.
This is the sad case of a lot of great individual elements—talented actors, a heartfelt message, and a great story—collapsing under the weight of a sloppy script. Clooney needs to do us all a favor and content himself with being an aging pretty face. (118 min.)
—Ashley Schwellenbach; New Times managing editor