From TV hunk, to a pretty rocky beginning on the big screen, to legit super star, to respected director, George Clooney’s career has been pretty interesting to watch. Confessions of Dangerous Mind is was the perfect directorial debut to show he was a real film maker with real ideas. Goodnight and Good Luck was a deserved award winner that got plenty of attention at the time, but doesn’t seem to be all that talked about these days. Leatherheads seemed like a bit of a tossed off dick around of Clooney having fun. It was nothing to rave about, but it was perfectly fine. The Ides of March was a return to trying something a little more important, along the lines of Goodnight and Good Luck, but it came and went without leaving much of an impression. But now, Clooney gets his first chance at a big budget, big star cast, big everything kind of movie, with The Monuments Men.
The Second World War is coming to a close and Hitler is on the ropes. But that hasn’t stopped him stealing and amassing the greatest pieces of art on offer as he makes his way through Europe. Now, there are two possible outcomes. Either the Nazis win the war and the art will all be shown in the planned Furher Museum, a massive literal building and even bigger figurative wank. Or, the Nazis lose, and follow Hitler’s orders to destroy all these masterworks before the allies can get their hands on them.
Cue the Monuments Men, a group of art experts led by George Clooney’s Frank Stokes, and played by Mat Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Hugh Bonneville, Bob Balaban, Jean Dujardin and Dimitri Leonidas. After a brief stint in basic training, these candy assed New York intellectuals are soon landing in Normandy, just behind the D Day invasion, and on the hunt for some of the greatest pieces of art ever created. Matt Damon’s James Granger is deployed to Paris where he meets Claire (Cate Blanchett), a former French resistance member who may know where the Germans have taken the stolen art.
It’s a great story that needs to be told, it’s made up of a great cast, and Clooney’s direction is, well, great. The only problem is, for all its great aspects, The Monuments Men only adds up to be a good movie. In no way bad, it just doesn’t reach the levels it really should. And I put that down to its weird, sluggish pacing.
Almost immediately after arriving in Europe, the core group is split up into four or five little units, all heading to different countries on their own little missions. Add to this the Russians not so well intentioned version of the Monuments Men, Blanchett’s story line and the odd German character, and it feels like Clooney’s biggest problems should have been finding time to fit everything in. Yet somehow, every scene, every story, every event seems to be a little slower than should be, and go just a little longer than necessary. It doesn’t quite ever get the momentum it needs.
When I first heard about The Monuments Men and saw trailers, I wondered how the movie would ever justify the loss of human life just for some paintings. It’s obvious Clooney thought that too, because he shoehorns in three or four different conversations and monologues all addressing that very topic. The only problem is, when the movie wasn’t talking about it directly, I kind of got on board with their mission and the huge risks they were talking, just for some paintings. But whenever the story would stop dead in its tracks to address it, I was taken out of it. Clooney really needed to have a little more faith in his movie and his audience.
After not so great reviews, I really, really, really wanted to prove them wrong and love The Monuments Men. On paper, everything about it made it seem like a sure thing. But ultimately I didn’t love it, I just liked it. Which should be enough, but I just wanted more.