Genial and episodic, and always on the verge of loosing track of its own storyline, most of “The Monuments Men” plays like an efficient and good looking shaggy dog story told by veterans sitting around the VFW on dollar beer night.
Directed by and starring George Clooney, “The Monuments Men” tells the story of the true life group of scholars, historians and art experts who joined up and traveled Europe in the heat of World War II, searching for the masterpieces looted and hidden away by the Nazis. Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Bob Balaban, Hugh Bonneville, and Jean Dujardin also star as members of the unit led by Clooney. Kate Blanchett plays a French art expert who aids Damon in his portion of the mission in occupied Paris.
After a brief “let’s hire this guy” prologue and mercifully short basic training segment, Clooney the director gets down to business, such as it is. After arriving on Omaha Beach soon after D-Day, the team is split up into pairs and sent in various directions to track down leads on where the Nazis have hidden the thousands of art treasures stolen from all over Europe. As the Nazi defeat seems eminent, they race to find the works before they are destroyed, as Hitler directed, in the scorched earth policy that followed the Allies’ invasion.
So for the majority of the film, we follow four different story threads, all of which are pleasant enough but never terribly involving or convincing. The fragmented storyline helps cover the basic lack of incident in the narrative, but you also never get any kind of feel for who the men are. No characters of any definition ever emerge. That’s Matt Damon in a jam with an unexploded land mine, that’s John Goodman searching for medical help for an injured Jean Dujardin. Why, that’s Lord Grantham, er, uh, Hugh Bonneville guarding that statue with only a handgun. Where’s Carson when you need him?
Not really a surprising choice given the filmmakers involved, this leisurely, just us guys having a good time making a war picture attitude works in stretches, when the stakes are low and the deeper horror of the potential destruction is downplayed. Alexandre Desplat’s trite, chirpy military march score only underscores the relaxed ambition.
There are respectful nods to the courage, and the dangers faced by, these non-soldiers, some of whom paid the ultimate price. A nefarious Nazi colonel, and a Russian officer on his own art ‘rescue’ mission are only token opposition, playing more like after-thoughts than realized antagonists. Look for a cameo by Clooney’s father, broadcaster Nick Clooney, near the end of the film.
Clooney also wrote the script with producing partner Grant Heslov (who has a cameo as a surgeon) and he knows what kind of script short-hand is going to work for his actors. Balaban is uptight, Goodman congenial, and Murray is, well, Murray. Blanchett puts in a good days work as the best drawn character, but her scenes with Damon are kind of a dead end and their muted romance fizzles in a puddle of noble fidelity.
Make no mistake, though, the movie looks great. Clooney and DP Phedon Papamichael know where to plunk down the camera, and where to keep it moving. Plenty of visual detail, excellent location shooting (in a church and a salt mine and a castle and so forth) and some really impressive heaps of ex-village rubble add a layer of conviction and grit the rest of the film never reaches. “The Monuments Men” settles instead for an undemanding jaunt thru an interesting past, with some friendly faces to smooth out the bumps along the way.
“The Monuments Men” Blu-ray is presented in 1080p High Definition, in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio. It is mastered in 4K, and also includes a DVD disc copy and access to an Ultraviolet digital version. It is everything you have come to expect from Blu-ray, excellent depth and definition, and unobtrusive color balance. There are subtitle options for English, English SDH, Spanish, and French.
The audio track is 5.1 DTS-HD MA, and I had no trouble with any of the soundtrack aspects. There are audio options for English and French descriptive tracks, and French language track in 5.1 Dolby Digital.
- “George Clooney’s Mission”–looks at Clooney the director and his working methods
- “Marshalling The Troops”–a funny and enjoyable behind-the-scenes with the all-star cast, with interviews and on-set footage
exclusive to the Blu-ray:
- a pair of deleted scenes, one of which includes a great CGI effect, one I can’t believe they didn’t find a way to keep in the finished film.
- “In Their Own Words”—interesting interviews with the real life Monuments Men, and more background on their true story.
- “A Woman Amongst The Monuments Men”—examines the amazing Rose Valland, the true life woman who inspired Cate Blanchett’s character
Closer in spirit to Clooney’s earlier comedy “Leatherheads,” than to his other true life story “Good Night and Good Luck,” “The Monuments Men” is enjoyable but lightweight, occasionally coasting on good will from its impressive cast.