Synopsis: At the tail end of World War II, art historian Frank Stokes (George Clooney) is tasked with preserving and rescuing much of Europe's great art, sculptures, and buildings from the retreating Nazi forces. He assembles a crack team, known as "The Monuments Men", consisting of artists, architects, and playwrights and the group of aging men head overseas. Once stationed on the front lines, James Granger (Matt Damon) must persuade French historian Claire Simone (Cate Blanchett) to trust him and reveal her knowledge while the rest of the group spreads out across Europe in an attempt to locate the thousands of stolen pieces before the Nazis put them all to the flame.
What I Liked: It's hard not to get excited about a cast like this. Clooney and Damon are great in and of themselves but when you add in American Treasures John Goodman and Billy Murray and the criminally underrated Bob Balaban in supporting roles, you know you're bound to see some excellent work no matter how the finished product turns out. And that's what sticks about most about The Monuments Men. You get these bright moments of greatness from one of these performers or another and often the best sequences involve two of them working off of one another. Clooney and Damon have an obvious easy chemistry with each other, Murray and Balaban work delightfully in tandem for quite some time, and Goodman and Jean Dujardin make the most of their time together as well. (Very little of this film includes all of the Monuments Men which is a real bummer obviously.) I think it's fair to say that when The Monuments Men shines, it is because of the rich stock of talent that makes up the cast, though the story itself is interesting and worthy of being told.
What I Didn't Like: I think we're at the point where we have to say that George Clooney as a director can no longer be considered a draw. His first two films (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and Good Night and Good Luck which earned him an Oscar nomination) were of the highest quality but his subsequent efforts have fallen off significantly. Leatherheads is horrible and while The Ides of March had its moments (and even brought a nomination for writing), its pursuit of greatness was hamstrung almost from the beginning and the direction had a lot to do with that. Monuments Men is much the same. Great cast (as noted), interesting story, lots of good vibes going in but ultimately it doesn't come anywhere close to achieving its goals. I think all the right pieces are here but the assemblage of said pieces is wrong. The tone is uneven and usually seems slightly off, the first hour is incredibly choppy, and the movie routinely tries to cash in on emotional checks it hasn't yet earned. We're supposed to be invested in Stokes' attachment to a certain piece of art but the development of this plot point (and many others) fails to deliver the same amount of attachment that the character feels. There are numerous, "Oh that's nice" moments that are played for, "This will stick with you for the next 20 years." The score is horrendous and often drives the tone in just enough of the wrong direction that I had trouble staying attuned. And when The Monuments Men works, it seems almost always to be a result of the great talent of the cast and almost in spite of the poor direction.
In Conclusion: I'm not willing to call The Monuments Men a bad movie but it is a far, FAR cry from the classic film that I, and I think everyone involved with this movie too, expected it to be. To me, it's like a puzzle that has been twisted and turned into an assembled whole but the final picture is all wrong. The Monuments Men is passable and decently entertaining but that unfortunately makes it quite a disappointment.
Grade: B- (Rated PG-13 for some language and violence)