I really wanted to love this movie. Based on a compelling true story about American virtue and heroism in World War II, involving art history with great actors, it seemed like the perfect blend for an intelligent, meaningful film. What could possible go wrong?
Sadly, plenty. First, the storytelling; The Monuments Men comes across more as a documentary than a compelling drama. Second, the acting. Emotions are muted – there never seems to be enough UUMPH. Maybe they were trying to depict the stoicism of the Greatest Generation. Or maybe I’m used to overacting in many films today. But when a film is about NAZIS and their atrocious deeds, some emotion is required. This film’s acting comes across as uninspired, and the actors as lazy. Third, the editing. Several unnecessary scenes give screen time to lesser characters and don’t advance the story (Village shootout with John Goodman, Jean Dujardin). Others are just too long (Bill Murray, camp shower with music).
Maybe the manly cast needed more female energy? The sole female character Claire (Cate Blanchett) is a terse, gutsy French woman. Yet her talents are wasted. When she tries to stoke the flames of desire with GI James (Matt Damon), it falls flat. Sure this is based on real events, and James wanted to stay true to his gal back home in the States but a little romantic spark could have done the film some good.
But this is a movie and not a documentary! When a beautiful French woman invites a GI to her Paris flat for an evening of candlelight, perfume, wine, and he accepts…AND they grow closer over discussing a plot to stick it to the Nazis…AND she offers herself to him in every charming, decent way….AND the red-blooded, good-looking GI knows he leaves the next day for the front lines in real mortal danger of never returning…DUH! EVERYONE knows what’s coming up next, and everyone WANTS it to happen!
Yet this film doesn’t let James lose himself in that moment, embrace her, or really do anything a male human would do. That lost moment is unbelievable story-telling and just plain bad film making. A little cinematic creative license would have been more than welcomed here – it was obligatory! Just like Matt’s character, The Monuments Men feels earnest and hopeful, but passionless. Like cardboard cut-outs. Tant pis (what a shame).
On a positive note, there is some beautiful cinematography of landscapes and art and a respect for the real men depicted. They were heroes. Watch this film with multiple generations when it comes out on DVD and have an inspired discussion afterward about art, America and sacrifice.
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