FlixChatter Double Reviews: The Monuments Men

MonumentsMenPoster

Happy Friday everyone! Today we’ve got another double review of a film which release has been delayed for a couple of months. Originally, this was to be released last December during awards/holiday season, but director/star George Clooney actually asked the studio for more time for post-production due to the special effects weren’t ready. Sarah and I went to the screening last Wednesday, here’s our take on it:

Sarah’s Review

When I was visiting Germany last year and killing time waiting for my train back to Dusseldorf from Cologne, I was struck by a postcard in one of the gift shops with a Google earth type of photo of Cologne in post-World War II Europe. The entire town was decimated by repeated bombings but somehow the 13th century Cologne cathedral still stood tall amidst all the destruction- as if saved only by the grace of God. “The Monuments Men,” the new movie co-written and directed by George Clooney, tells the story of curators, archivists and art historians from thirteen countries whose mission it was to save some of the most culturally significant works of art from Nazi destruction near the end of World War II. In a Napoleonic-like move, Adolf Hitler often ordered his armies to claim some of Europe’s greatest art treasures for his planned “Fuhrer Museum” to be built near his boyhood home in Austria. (Did you know Hitler was a failed art student? Neither did I. When George Stout, an American art conservationist played by George Clooney in the movie, shows one of his paintings to the newly assembled group, one of them remarks, “Hitler did that? It’s not bad.” However, James Granger, played by Matt Damon and based on Metropolitan Museum of Art Director James Rorimer, says, “Well, it’s not good.”) When the fall of the Third Reich became a reality, Hitler commanded his men to destroy everything and the group that has become known as the Monuments Men swung into action, embarking on “the greatest treasure hunt in history.”

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As a self-proclaimed history buff who has studied and visited many of the places in the film, I really wanted to like this movie but it felt like this great story got lost in a mishmash of a film trying to be a combination of Hogan’s Heroes, Saving Private Ryan and The Da Vinci Code. Call it a movie with an identity crisis- it was like it couldn’t decide if it wanted to be a comedy or a drama. SPOILER ALERT! (Without giving too much away, one example is a scene where one of the Monuments Men gets shot and it’s obvious he’s going to die. However, in the next scene he is cracking jokes. Umm, hello? It’s wartime and you’re dying.) The cast, which also includes Bill Murray and John Goodman, do what they can but ultimately can’t save this one. About the only person who seems to understand the gravity of the situation is Claire Simone, the museum curator turned spy played by Cate Blanchett. When showing Matt Damon’s character some of the Nazi’s re-possessed goods, he asks incredulously, “What is all this?” “People’s lives,” she solemnly replies. Her scenes were a breath of fresh air.
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This movie does do a couple of things well. It helps put you in the moment where these men unearth thousands of stolen, priceless artifacts. What must it have been like to gaze upon these famous artworks and know that you had a major role in securing them for future generations to enjoy? And it also provides a powerful reminder of what we were fighting for- not just art, but our culture, history and way of life. Two scenes brought this home to me: the first near the beginning of the film where you see the beautiful landscape of Paris decorated with Nazi swastikas and the second toward the end of the film where you see Nazi soldiers indiscriminately torching some of what they had stolen. Maybe it was these ideals that frustrated me the most about this movie- it was okay, but it could have been so much better.
The movie is based on a 2010 book of the same name by Robert Edsel and it did make me want to learn more about this fascinating point in history. Also, in a local connection, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts has put together a self-guided tour identifying items from its own collection saved by the Monuments Men or with other World War II related stories. As our temperature doesn’t want to rise above zero lately and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts is free, this seems like a great idea! As for the movie, it piques your interest but doesn’t quite hold you in its grasp.

TCFF_reviewer_Ruth


2.5 out of 5 reels

Ruth’s Review

When I first heard about this film, the subject matter intrigued me more than even the ensemble cast. Truthfully, seeing Matt Damon and George Clooney with their megastar smiles in the trailer, it felt like an Ocean’s Eleven heist type of flick, but with Nazis. Hmmm, it turns out that first impression wasn’t that off-base after all.

Seems that the film has everything going for it to be a truly great WWII drama. Clooney is after all a reputable Oscar-nominated director/writer/actor, a triple threat on top of being one of the biggest movie stars in the universe. He’s got the clout to assemble a bunch of Oscar-caliber International cast and crew, who are more than up for the task to bring this amazing wartime tale to life. But yet, even halfway through the film, it just left me wanting. For something so monumental in history, the film just doesn’t do the story justice.

To call this film uneven would be putting it mildly. There’s a tonal hodgepodge that makes it quite hard to really grasp the weight of the mission of the men (and women) involved. Art historian Frank Stokes, played by Clooney himself, preaches to the audience the significance of this art-rescue mission and how noble the cause was for humanity that it was worth a person’s life. Yet the way the film’s played-out lacks the gravitas of that sentiment. At times it’s just too lighthearted for its own good that it loses its impact. I’m not saying that mixing drama with comedy can’t work, I mean there are great films that finely tread the line between drama and comedy, but I’m not sure it works well here.

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There’s a scenario where one character accidentally stepped on a land mine, but it’s treated like a humorous scene. I guess there ought to be an SNL skit where the Monuments Men don’t know which foot to stand on. Seems that Clooney himself realizes the challenge of getting the tone right, as this article from The Wrap points out  “If we get the tone right it will be a really fun film …” he said. Well, the film is not without its shares of fun, but I think if the tone were right, it would’ve been a great film.

Performance-wise, seems that the cast are having a good time making this which is fun to watch. Clooney and Damon are pretty good but I’ve seen much better work from both of them. It’s amusing to see Bill Murray being Bill Murray, Bob Balaban with his deadpan humor and Jean Dujardin being his irresistible charming French guy that he is. Now, as much as I got a kick watching them, I barely knew about any of them nor any of the other characters in the film. Why did they sacrifice their lives for this mission? Is it simply their love for art, or was there something more? As a result, I couldn’t connect with any of them no matter how hard I tried. Even during the most dire circumstances, it didn’t incite lump-in-my-throat kind of emotion, and this coming from someone who cry easily at movies. I think Cate Blanchett‘s character, the only female cast who’s the most solemn of the whole bunch, is the only one who lends credibility to the story. But still her character’s not explored as well as I would like, either.

This is Clooney’s fifth directorial effort and he also co-wrote it with his screenwriting partner Grant Heslov.  Seems that the filmmakers’ heart are in the right place and the film is not without its poignant moments. I just wish those moments are more consistent instead of just in few and far between. I don’t think that even if this were released just in time for Oscar season that it would’ve been in the running. It’s not a terrible film however, I’d recommend it as a rental if you love the cast. But if you want to really know who the Monuments Men are and their mission, I’d think there are documentaries on them that’s more satisfying and compelling. As it stands, it’s quite entertaining with a tinge of poignancy, though it lacks a certain level of artistry that’d give us a lasting impression.

TCFF_reviewer_Ruth

threereels
3 out of 5 reels


What do you think folks, agree/disagree with our review? Well let’s hear it!

55 thoughts on “FlixChatter Double Reviews: The Monuments Men

  1. Very interesting reviews! Being a history buff, mostly World War II, I’ve been excited to this story played out but I have my reservations just from the trailer. The cast looks good enough, but kinda looks like a mish-mash. I’ll see it sometime but it may just not be in theatres right now.

    • Hi Katy! It’s not a bad film and as a history buff it might still be worth your while. I just wish it were more compelling than it is given how significant AND intriguing this story is.

  2. Oh, man! I was going to see this this weekend. I was hoping it was great–the cast is stellar and I love the premise. If it’s just mediocre, I’ll wait for it on Direct or Netflix. :(

    • Yeah I was disappointed too. I don’t always agree w/ critics so I actually thought they’d be wrong and I’d love it. Alas, the best thing about it is the cast.

  3. Great reviews, girls! You seem to agree with each other and with a lot of critics I’ve read so far. I shared on Facebook yesterday the story of a critic who actually walked out.

  4. Hey Ruth (and Sarah). Today is my birthday, and my mother in law is letting me see a movie. Because she is awesome. I am literally in the theater waiting for the trailers to start, about to see this.

    I hope I like it more than both if you.

      • Oh. And the movie. I’ll write a review of it later, but I basically agree with both of you. I’m not sure it was aiming for much humor – if it was, it failed. And it didn’t have the gravitas it needed to prove successful. Just not real good.

        • I think he’s trying to make it half drama half comedy but ends up being only half successful at both. Maybe mathematically it’s supposed to work but it ends up being odd as you don’t know what to make of it.

  5. It’s always funny to me when a film gets push out of the prime release date and the studio would come up some lame excuse, in this case more time to “fix” the effects? Ha ha. In truth they realized would’ve gotten trash by critics, which it did and won’t any money at the box office. So why not dump it in the winter season.

    I was intrigued when I saw the trailer last fall but when it got push out of the prime release date, I knew the film probably suck. I’m not the biggest fan of Clooney as a director, the last film I saw that he directed was Letterheads. It could’ve been a great story of the birth of pro football in America but he made it into this sort screw ball comedy and just didn’t jell at all. Sounds like he did the same with this movie.

    I’ll probably rent it when it hits Bluray. Nice reviews though!

    • Yeah, I don’t know which SFX Clooney is speaking of as it’s not that kind of movie. I wish he’d spend more time on the writing instead and flush out the characters more. I don’t always agree w/ critics and it’s really not as bad as they made it, but still, NOT a good movie either.

      I think I’ve only seen The Ides of March that he directed and wasn’t impressed w/ that either. It takes real skills to be able to blend drama & comedy.

      • I think that was just an excuse the studio came up with, I remember how the film was hyped up to this award worthy but I’m sure when they saw, they realized it’s not that great and dump it in the winter month. LOL.

        I haven’t seen The Ides of March yet, just wasn’t that interested in it. Clooney could be one of those directors where they started out well with their first couple of movies, but fizzled out. In Clooney’s case I thought his first two movies were pretty good, Confession of a Dangerous Mind and Goodnight and Good Luck. After Letterheads, I just didn’t think he’s that good of a director. Who knows he could be like Eastwood, it took him a while to finally make a great film.

    • Thanks Mikey! I think Clooney is the opposite of Ben Affleck where he’s a better actor than director. I dunno about O. Russell though, I was thinking Spielberg though War Horse was drained w/ over-sentimentality. I’d think if they want to highlight the military aspect of the mission, even Peter Berg might be a good choice to direct. He did The Kingdom and most recently Lone Survivor.

  6. Love the double review idea. Look forward to reading one where the two reviewers violently disagree :-)

    Bit disappointed in the reaction that The Monuments Men has received so far, I’m still holding out that against all odds I love it. Having worked in genocide prevention/awareness I’m always keen to seek out stories which recognise the importance of a community’s cultural heritage to their survival.

    • Hi Louise! Ha..ha.. I should’ve done that w/ Wolf of Wall Street where I disagree w/ my friend’s review :) I didn’t care to write a review of it though, so I only posted his.

      I was really hoping I’d love it too, I mean it’s such an amazing story. But it is what it is. The stellar cast can’t save an unfocused direction and script.

  7. Hi, Ruth and Sarah:

    So, you’re saying that ‘The Monuments Men’ is no ‘The Dirty Dozen’ in regards to continuity, tension and overall message.

    About the only major undercover operation I’m aware of towards the end of WWII. Was the OSS going crazy recovering gold and a few “art treasures (Painting, sculptures and such) hidden deep in a salt mine in Merkers, Germany.

    The cast sounds up to the task, but I think I’ll wait for DVD or HBO for this one.

    • I haven’t seen The Dirty Dozen Jack, but I take your word for it that it’s a much better film. Now I’m more curious to see The Train with Burt Lancaster which has the same theme. Speaking of which, that’d be a great one to review [hint, hint]

      • Hi, Ruth:

        There’s nothing uniform, gear or weapon wise in ‘The Monument Men’ that I haven’t already seen in ‘Band of Brothers’ or ‘Saving Private Ryan’.

        Though ‘The Train’ is definitely on of the better WWII films. Not just for Burt Lancaster’s English speaking Frenchman matching wits with top ranked, English speaking Germans. But the film’s overall authenticity and Frankenheimer’s refusal to use models. When real trains are so awesome and crash so dramatically well!

        Check your E-mail.

  8. Lovely reviews! Was excited to see this, especially considering the great cast. But I guess I shouldn’t get my hopes up to high considering the average ratings. But then again January-April rarely does have very good movies (I LOVED The Lego Movie however!).

    • Hi Asrap, the cast makes it still watchable but I really was expecting a much better direction from Clooney. Oh I LOVE The LEGO Movie too, will be reviewing that tomorrow.

  9. Yeah, I’m not surprised. I like Clooney but he should stick to acting. For me he makes mediocre films – I wasn’t even impressed with Good Night and Good Luck. Honestly his last few films are just a waste of talent and time – I enjoyed Ides of March, but as highly as I rated it, it was nothing groundbreaking.

    • Hi Sati! I like Clooney too, though I’m with you that he’s a much better actor. Haven’t seen Good Night and Good Luck, do you think that’s still worth renting? I think Ides of March was ok, but yeah, nothing groundbreaking. This one is still worth seeing if you like Clooney AND Dujardin, esp the latter who’s always fun to watch in any movie.

  10. Hmmm! Sounds quite disappointing overall. This star studded cast was a little too much to ask for methinks. Clooney’s directed a couple of films now that have been very disappointing.

  11. Having just seen this movie over the weekend, I have to agree with your three reels rating Ruth! It was fine. Nothing made me want to see it again, but it wasn’t poorly done. I think what bothered me the most was the pointless romantic teasing between Matt Damon’s character and Blanchett’s near the end. I mean, we don’t see them interacting much in the course of the movie, and then she wants to sleep with him because reasons? Ick, I pass on the insinuation that scene portrayed in that she owed him in some way.

  12. Really glad to come back and read these reviews after seeing the film. They are very good reads. Ruth as you know I REALLY liked the film. The tone didn’t bother me mainly because none of the laughs were intended to be loud, side-splitting, or raucous.. I found them to be very fitting with these characters. But I’m with you, it doesn’t always work. That landmine scene went on too long.

    I can also see what you’re saying about the character development. It didn’t really bother me because it gives us just enough information about them. For example, one is an alcoholic who desperately wants to live up to his father’s expectations. One does it for his children. Two are art historians who see it as cultural genocide of sorts. I connected with them but it did leave me wanting to know more.

    I read one of your commenters talking about a critic walking out. That baffles me. I always respect different opinions especially on something as subjective movies. But I would love to see some of the movies the critic has actually sat through. ;)

  13. Great reviews. Spot on about the tone Ruth. If these issues had been ironed out it could have been a great film as the subject matter is really interesting. I saw the Kolne cathedral a few years ago too Sarah and was stunned by how it had managed to survive. The issues behind this film are fascinating, it’s just a shame the movie didn’t do them justice.

    • Thanks Natalie! Oh now I really want to see the Kolne Cathedral, hopefully it’ll still be standing when I get around to it. I might try to find a documentary of this, I’m sure it’s been made before. I just love this story.

      • It really is worth visitng. It was snowing when we saw it but it was so cold that when we got to the top of the tower the battery in my camera wouldn’t work! I’d love to see a documentary too – let me know if you find a good one.

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