'Monumental' disaster

Clooney’s war film falls short of greatness

[Clooney] develops the mission within the first five minutes of the movie, but then decides to go through a series of alternately hilarious and saddening scenes, leaving the entire film feeling like a series of awkward transitions.

The last movie I watched about Nazi Germany was “Inglourious Basterds” — and unfortunately, I preferred Quentin Tarantino’s fictitious World War II account to George Clooney’s story based on actual events.

The premise itself is very intriguing. Clooney stars in his film as Lt. Frank Stoles, a conservator and museum director loosely based on real-life figure George Stout, who organizes the Monuments Men in response to Nazi plundering of museums and churches across Europe. Because the Nazis stole works of art from Jewish collectors under the direct orders of Hitler, who wanted to fill an entire art museum in Germany, the Monuments Men are tasked with finding and returning the pieces.

But despite this potentially engaging premise — and the all-star cast Clooney drew in for the project — the film ultimately falls short. Not even Monuments Men Bill Murray, John Goodman and Matt Damon, nor Cate Blanchett’s French museum curator are enough to save the film which changes tone repeatedly and senselessly throughout its 110 minutes.

I was unsure whether the movie was intended to be a comedy, a war movie or an action-adventure flick. The lack of identity ultimately makes the film drag on far longer than was necessary. Clooney develops the mission within the first five minutes of the movie, but then decides to go through a series of alternately hilarious and saddening scenes, leaving the entire movie feeling like a series of awkward transitions.

The Monuments Men never really get any support for their cause. They arrive at the different bases eager to start, only to be scoffed at by superior officers. At one point in the film, they stumble upon massive quantities of gold — but the credit goes to the general officers, and none of the reporters even mentioned the found art.

Blatant displays of disrespect like this occur multiple times during the movie to suggest the Monuments Men were “unsung heroes.” The real life “Monuments Men,” however, consisted of hundreds of people and had a much stronger network of support than the movie implies.

There were really only two consistent aspects of the film: the art and Bill Murray. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing all of the recovered artwork, and the movie did a decent job of encouraging the audience to appreciate these masterpieces, which included the “Madonna of Bruges” by Michelangelo and the “Ghent Altarpiece” by Jan and Hubert van Eyck.

Murray, meanwhile, brings his undeniable charm and wit to the table, helping to bring moments of levity to the film. My favorite scene involved a powerful Murray listening to a vinyl of his family back home, set to “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” A number of sniffles could be heard across the audience.

It is increasingly difficult to make a movie about war — especially one based on factual historical accounts. But I feel as though under another director — one who may have lended a clearer tone —this movie really could have been something great.

It appears Clooney never decided if he wanted to make “The Patriot” or another “Inglourious Basterds.” The premise of the plot is stolen art, but it seemed to me more like stolen opportunity.

Published February 20, 2014 in Arts and Entertainment, tableau

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