The Monuments Men (M)

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Review byMatthew Turner13/02/2014

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 119 mins

The Monuments Men tells a fascinating and important true story and remains watchable thanks to likeable turns from its impressively starry cast, but it suffers from an unfocussed script and an uneven tone that aims for both comedy and thrills but falls short on both counts.

What's it all about?
Directed and co-written by George Clooney, The Monuments Men is based on both a true story and the non-fiction book by Robert Edsel. Clooney stars as curator and conservationist Frank Stokes, who persuades President Roosevelt to allow him to put together a rag-tag team of men dedicated to rescuing looted art masterpieces from the Nazis and returning them to their owners.

Stokes' team - dubbed The Monuments Men - includes art expert James Granger (Matt Damon), architect Richard Campbell (Bill Murray), sculptor Walter Garfield (John Goodman), French art dealer Jean Claude Clermont (Jean Dujardin), art historian Preston Savitz (Bob Balaban) and British art aficionado Donald Jeffries (Hugh Bonneville), as well as young German Jew Sam Epstein (Dimitri Leonidas), a soldier assigned to translation and driving duties. After completing basic training in Normandy, they set off on a variety of different missions, but their task acquires added urgency when they learn, firstly, that the Nazis are bent on destroying the looted works as they retreat, and secondly, that the Russians are after the same artworks, but intending to keep them as the spoils of war.

The Good
The appealingly starry cast forms a large part of the film's appeal and there's a certain pleasure in, for example, seeing Dujardin reunited with Goodman (his co-star from The Artist) or the constant bickering between Murray and Balaban. However, the performances feel curiously subdued in places, leaving you longing for a more knockabout atmosphere in the ensemble.

That said, there are strong performances from Brits Bonneville (who has a moving sequence involving the Bruges Madonna) and Leonidas (he used to be in Grange Hill, you know), who's thoroughly convincing as a Brooklyn-based German Jew. However, Blanchett is almost entirely wasted as an art museum secretary who develops a crush on Damon's character.

The Bad
The film's main problem is its uneven tone - it's not funny enough to succeed as a comedy (one of the more painful running jokes involves Damon speaking terrible French) and not exciting or tense enough to work as a thriller. It also has a faint air of preachiness and continually overstates its central theme about exactly why great art is worth dying for.

On top of that, the script lacks focus in the first half, randomly jumping from one set of characters to another instead of having them all working together towards the same goal. It's worth mentioning, too, that it has been somewhat mis-marketed as an Ocean's Eleven-style heist movie, especially since there's not even a heist in it.

Worth seeing?
The Monuments Men remains entertaining thanks to its likeable cast, but the script and tone are uneven and it's hard not to wonder whether this fascinating true story might have been better served by a documentary.

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Content updated: 25/08/2019 00:35

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