In the darkest days of World War Two, as the war rages and the invading Allies battle the retreating Germans to liberate Europe, a crack team of unlikely heroes – middle aged art historians, museum curators, architects and artists – are recruited to save Western civilisation’s greatest treasures both from the Nazis, who have plundered the museums and art galleries of Europe and the looted homes of its Jews, and from their own forces who care little for the historical buildings they’re bombing and shelling.  With their numbers dwindling and the war drawing to a close, the team, dubbed the ‘Monuments Men’ find themselves in a race against time to find Hitler’s secret art hoard before the Nazis destroy it or the Russians claim it for themselves.

Given the deluge of negative reviews flooding out on the film’s cinema release, you’d be forgiven for expecting Gorgeous George’s latest directorial effort, The Monuments Men, to be a turkey of Battlefield Earth proportions so, while it’s far from being a masterpiece, it’s rather pleasing to report that it’s really not that bad.  Despite it being yet another film where the Yanks win the war single-handed and about as accurate as the infamous U-571, The Monuments Men is an entertaining, refreshingly earnest and old-fashioned, Boys Own tale of derring do with a fantastic ensemble cast, a WW2 caper movie that celebrates ordinary heroism.  They don’t make ‘em like this anymore.

It’s not without its faults however.  The script is uneven and the film lurches wildly from comedy to drama to sentimentality and back again, never really finding a consistent tone, a problem not helped by the mawkish and overbearing score which telegraphs exactly how you’re supposed to feel from moment to moment.  Seriously George, re-cut the film with the upbeat training music from The Wild Geese and you’ve instantly got a more engaging film.  While much of the ensemble cast acquit themselves well, director/producer/writer`Clooney shouldn’t perhaps have hired actor Clooney; there’s a sense that Gorgeous George is spreading himself a little too thin.  There’s also a sense that he’s trying to cram too much into a 2 hour film and, despite some impassioned scenes more or less delivered straight to camera that underline the importance of art vs. the value of human life, the film feels a little dumbed down; for a bunch of art historians our heroes never really talk art, there’s none of the argument and debate you’d expect from a bunch of middle aged, middle class intellectuals, Clooney, perhaps mindful of his Middle America audience, preferring instead to have his cast indulge in sub-Oceans 11 blokey banter.

The story is fascinating and the film is at its best when the cast are together having fun and bouncing off one another but Clooney splits them up too soon, pairing them off and sending them on different missions while poor Matt Damon has to spend much of his screentime Platonically wooing brittle French secretary Cate Blanchett (doing her best “A dingo took my baby,” Meryl Streep impersonation) who conveniently kept detailed, colour-coded notes of where the dastardly Krauts stashed the art they trousered.  Goodman reunites with his The Artist co-star Jean Dujardin and their easy chemistry is a delight while Bill Murray does some of his best work in years, his scenes with Bob Balaban almost making you wish for a sequel where their characters go off and tour the art galleries of Europe together, bickering and sniping at each other.

And that perhaps is The Monuments Men’s biggest problem – the cast are obviously having a much better time than you.  While it’s not the unmitigated disaster you’ve been led to believe, it doesn’t live up to the promise of its cast and creative team, never achieving the significance that Clooney’s obviously striving for but it’s a mostly fun, irony-free romp that at least engages with the concept that art and culture are vital to the well-being of a nation, that it’s worth sacrificing everything, even our lives, to preserve them and that it’s the duty of civilised nations to protect them, a refreshing sentiment when art and culture are under threat not just in war zones like Syria or Iraq but here at home where Dishface and his lizard cronies believe that art is a frivolous indulgence.  The true war in The Monuments Men is one of ideology and its one that still needs to be fought.

VERDICT: [rating=3]






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