Thursday, February 20, 2014

Movie with Abe: The Monuments Men

The Monuments Men
Directed by George Clooney
Released February 7, 2014

George Clooney is a talented actor who, later in his career, has shifted over from acting to working behind the camera. Like many other directors, he does cast himself in relatively prominent roles, sometimes the lead part. Acting in his own films makes him seem like a part of the club, and as if he’s having a good time working with the rest of the cast. Having a good time definitely isn’t a problem with his fifth shot behind the camera, but this World War II-set caper could have benefited from a more serious, worldly perspective.

Playing the lead doesn’t necessarily mean he’s putting in much effort, and Clooney certainly doesn’t focus on his acting in this film. As Frank Stokes, the leader of a ragtag band of art historians, architects, and other culture aficionados who head into France and Germany to preserve precious works of art, Clooney is bland and unexciting, leaving the eccentricity to his supporting costars. Matt Damon and Cate Blanchett have more one-note, serious roles, but the rest of the ensemble – Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, Hugh Bonneville, John Goodman, and Jean Dujardin – are ideal in many ways for comic relief. Therein lies the film’s main problem.

“The Monuments Men” is supposed to take place during a war. A group of out-of-shape older men far from accustomed to battle head into a war zone to identify and save art. The fact that they are not real soldiers is inconsequential since all of their interactions with enemy forces are hopelessly sterile. There are no stakes, and even when death and irreversible consequences do threaten to find them, it still doesn’t feel genuine. It’s as if these guys are traipsing around in a comedy that just happens to be taking place during a war. That aspect makes it more of a children’s movie, and the few sincere moments seem excessively dark and out of place as a result.

Aside from how tame the film feels, it’s also disconcerting to think about this frivolous team goofing around in the midst of the Holocaust, pursuing Nazis for their theft of art rather than any more horrific crimes. Forgetting that fact, this is a relatively entertaining if ultimately unfulfilling adventure. Excusing its absence of context, this is a fun film. Murray and Balaban are particularly funny in their parts as an odd couple partnered up to work together, and Dujardin and Bonneville make the most of their scenes as well. This is hardly essential viewing, but it’s harmless enough if its setting doesn’t prove too bothersome.


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