“The sad thing is that this will probably be people’s first and only introduction to “The Monuments Men” as people…”

The Monuments Men is a historical comedy-drama with a very intriguing history, but comedy that isn’t funny and drama that isn’t always interesting. From the get-go, we are greeted with the courageous “Monuments Men,” men who were instructed to retrieve numerous valuable pieces of art that the Nazis had stolen during World War II, however, never we do we develop a relationship with anyone of the men involved with such a large and dangerous undertaking. I exited the film knowing just as little about these men as I did entering.

This is especially surprising given the cast of characters: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Cate Blanchett, Bob Balaban, and even Jean Dujardin of The Artist in what I believe is his first major film since his Best Actor win. Despite assembling one of the year’s best casts so far, director Clooney struggles to bring character identity to these courageous, often unsung men. With World War II and The Holocaust being such enormous chunks of world history, with numerous events taking place and a great number of people involved, it’s only inevitable that some will be shortchanged or almost entirely forgotten to hopefully rise to prominence in the future. It’s unfortunate that the “Monuments Men” have their prominence in a less-than-compelling mainstream film when their story is most certainly very compelling.

The Monuments Men
Directed by
George Clooney
George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray
Release Date
7 February 2014
Steve’s Grade: C-

Those leading the brigade of men are tasked with retrieving the art are Lt. Frank Stokes (George Clooney) and Lt. James Granger (Matt Damon) and assist in leading four other men to help with this mission. The remainder of actors such as Murray, Goodman, Dujardin, and Balaban are only given sporadic times to shine, which is already disappointing seeing as they can practically carry an entire movie on their own. However, the real issue is we know nothing about these characters and their backgrounds. The running joke in the film is that Murray and Balaban’s characters have a long, heated history and insult each other whenever they get the opportunity. This would be funny if we got insight as to why they don’t like each other and have their friendship that is predicated off of insults and heated exchanges. Yet because we have no idea, it just seems like meanness for the sake of meanness.

Then there are Clooney’s speeches about why art is important, where he reiterates the talking points likely to be used in an AP art class about how “art defines culture” and “art isn’t owned by anyone.” Never do we really get any perspective or any reason that firmly cements why these men are doing what they are doing except for a few generic, talking points reasons.

With all that said, the acting is still what holds the film together mostly. Just because Clooney and co-writer Grant Heslov’s screenplay lack in key areas, doesn’t mean that the actors aren’t trying, or not on-par with their previous work. Clooney is assured and believable, per usual, Damon works as your typical everyman trying to do right, and when the aforementioned four get screentime, it’s usually time to cherish. It’s just a shame that more exposition and scenes involving these remarkable character actors were traded for less-than-compelling scenes of the men plotting to steal art and then tracking the pieces down.

The sad thing is that this will probably be people’s first and only introduction to “The Monuments Men” as people and Clooney unfortunately directs a middling and dry film to credit them in what should’ve been a rousing and greatly informative picture on one of the most troubling and frightening times in world history. Don’t let the strong ending fool you – I don’t think we’ve seen the real beginning and middle yet.

Review by Steve Pulaski, Lead Film Critic