It has an extraordinary and monumental cast and crew, including much feted and celebrated Oscar winners and nominees. They don’t add luster to this doomed enterprise that turns out to be a bland, boring, predictable and pathetic caricature of a momentous episode of World War II. It neither justifies its mammoth subject nor its budget. It’s a badly written, directed and consequently poorly performed film.
The film is loosely based on some true stories and happenings during WWII compiled by Robert M. Edsel with Bret Witter and is about a group of artists, art historians, architects, and museum curators who were embedded in the Allied army and were tasked to save the great works of European art and architecture and thus its culture. They were known as the monuments men.
It’s 1943. The Allied forces are on the offensive and war means wanton destruction. Frank Stokes (George Clooney), an art historian, is concerned about what will happen to the great works of art in this Armageddon. The Washington establishment shares his concerns and he is entrusted the task of finding out his team of monuments men and launch the mission.
Stokes does an Ocean and picks up his motley bunch of men in different shapes and sizes and of varying intellectual and attitudinal disposition. They are, apart from Stokes, Lt. James Granger (Matt Damon), Sgt. Richard Campbell (Bill Murray), Sgt. Walter Garfield (John Goodman), Lt. Jean Claude Clermont (Jean Dujardin) as Pvt. Preston Savitz (Bob Balaban), Lt. Donald Jeffries (Hugh Bonneville), and Sam Epstein (Dimitri Leonidas) who joins the group in the war zone itself. They finally land up at the Normandy beach and begin their historic rescue mission facing some resistance from hard-core Allied military men who do not exactly share their enthusiasm.
At the same time, in Paris, the Germans, led by Herman Goering and a Nazi officer Viktor Stahl, are busy identifying, and purloining great works of art that will adorn the walls of Hitler’s ambitious Führer Museum in Linz. Claire Simone (Cate Blanchett), a curator, is a witness to this thievery.
The monuments men are running against time because the Russians are also after these invaluable works of art and if the treasure falls in their hands, they will keep it as war reparation and the original owners will never get their cultural icons back. However, Claire does not trust the Americans either to pass on the information she has until the handsome James Granger wins her confidence and she, after having realized that the paintings will be destroyed forever by the SS officers after the fall of Hitler, decides to give her carefully kept logbook about the stolen paintings like Leonardo da Vinci’s Madonna. They also succeed in locating Stahl by a quirk of fate in the German countryside. He has quite foolishly hung the smaller size paintings by great painters on his dining room walls. He tells the monuments men where the paintings were taken to and stored. Quite predictably in spite of heavy odds the monuments men largely succeed in saving thousands of paintings and sculptures from being destroyed and stolen. They lose, quite tamely, two of their men in this mission.
It follows a typical Ocean’s 11 kind of narrative template. The characters are caricatures. The Nazis come across as jokers. The dialogues are anecdotal, educating us about Hitler’s madness, self-indulgent callousness, and even cruelty. In one of the treasure troves the monuments men discover bullion and also a big sack full of gold extracted from the fillings of exterminated jews.
It’s an underdeveloped film made without much conviction or commitment. Actors seem to be going through some kind of routine, staying true to their established screen persona. The grandeur and terror of war theatre is completely missing. Towards the film’s climax, the narrative suddenly assumes a thriller mode, a kind of race for time between the monuments men and the Russians. It’s too insipid and idiotic to have an impact.
Is it a genuine war film? It looks as genuine as M*A*S*H. It was supposed to be a heist film then it became a war drama and still later a thriller. This state of indecision has apparently had its impact on its screenplay and production. It’s a very bad film, lacking in imagination and vision and a complete waste of money, star power, and valuable audience time.
It had a special screening at Berlinale this year playing out of competition. It won’t have gone well with the audience and probably would have been vociferously booed after the screening.
Rating : 1.5/5
THE MONUMENTS MEN Movie Review by Rajesh Kumar Singh (the author) who is Editorial Consultant for Festivals and Markets for BollywoodTrade.com. He is a filmmaker, critic and market analyst.
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