Synopsis: Based on the book The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert M. Edsel, the movie stars George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban and Hugh Bonneville as a motley crew of art historians, engineers and museum directors recruited to locate and rescue priceless art works stolen by the Nazis. When two members of their team are killed they are no longer observers but active participants in the war.
• Richard: 2/5
• Mark: 3/5
Richard: Mark, this is a wartime comedy. Think Hogan’s Heroes by way of Leonardo Da Vinci and you’ll get the idea. It has some mild laughs — the biggest giggle, for Canadians anyway, comes from the Parisians who blame Matt Damon’s terrible French on having spent too much time in Montreal — but also a great deal of reverence for the art and the work of the real-life monuments men. But what might have been an edgy, exciting look at an under-reported slice of World War II history is reduced to an elegantly directed but somewhat dull film.
Mark: Richard, I was really looking forward to this movie. Three of my major obsessions are George Clooney, Nazis and art, although not necessarily in that order. But you’re right; the movie is kind of a snooze in parts. There are some great scenes, but they don’t quite add up. And at no time did I feel much of a sense of danger, probably because the war is ending and the Germans are already on the run. The great cast is mostly split up during the movie, so the expected camaraderie is absent. But there’s one great reason to see this movie, and that’s the prominent role of prickly nerd Bob Balaban.
RC: The cast is terrific. Balaban is a great actor, and an underused one, so it’s always cool to see him trotted out in anything, but for me Bill Murray shows, once again, in a brief scene in a shower (no spoilers here), how his understated style can move an audience. No problems with the acting, but co-writers Clooney and longtime collaborator Grant Heslov appear to have taken a dose of sentimentality pills before putting pen to paper. The earnest, reverential tone is reinforced by old school pacing that focuses on the character and art over action and a rousing soundtrack that sounds airlifted in from a classic wartime era movie.
MB: Bill Murray, as always, proves that less is indeed more. There’s a quasi-romance between Matt Damon and Cate Blanchett that seemed forced to me, not to mention she wears the ugliest pair of shoes in the history of cinema. But all through the movie there’s a moral dilemma that keeps being rammed down our throats. Is art valuable enough to risk human life for? The movie tells us over and over that it is, but to be honest, Richard, I’m not so sure. And if you’re not sure, the urgency falls apart.
RC: It seems like you noticed Blanchett’s shoes more than the art. Therein lies the movie’s central problem.
MB: Well, I’m more of a modernist anyway. When they tell the story of how the Germans burned the Klees, Braques, and Picassos I nearly wept. This isn’t a bad movie, Richard. I just hoped for a great one.