The true story of a band of men who set about trying to save mankind’s greatest artistic treasures, it is remarkable that we haven’t heard more of The Monuments Men tale until now.
A cross between Dad’s Army and The Antiques Roadshow, the answer may lie in just how incredibly dull it is.
As the war shifts in the Allies favour, Frank Stokes (George Clooney) petitions President Roosevelt to allow him to set up a team to steal back the art stolen by the Nazis during their occupation of Europe, but then why would anyone care about art at a time when thousands of people were losing their lives? It’s a question acknowledged numerous times during the film, but one that is answered – for Stokes and his team at least – with the assertion that “if you destroy a people’s history, if you destroy their achievements, then it’s as if they never existed.” Fair enough, then.
It you were expecting a wartime Ocean’s Eleven, or an art-based Where Eagles Dare, then you’re going to be exceptionally disappointed, as The Monuments Men comprises largely of people talking about art, walking into churches and looking at art, and talking about art while looking at art inventories and some maps.
Despite an all-star cast featuring Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett and John Goodman, it’s an incredibly tedious two hours, and the odd moment of levity (provided mostly by Murray and Bob Balaban) or action does little to salvage a plodding narrative.
The problem lies in that the film requires you to really care about the fate of the artwork which, although everyone can probably agree is significant, doesn’t make for much of a compelling protagonist on screen, and no amount of men looking in awe at paintings or sculptures of women with their boobs out can convince us otherwise.
Of course it is a true story, so it isn’t like we can have Clooney and Co. jumping out of a plane under enemy fire, but that doesn’t mean the film can’t be more engaging for a mainstream audience, yet The Monuments Men just doesn’t do the job of bringing it to life. It’s the sort of thing that would have made for a fascinating hour-long documentary, but as it is it’s a film that oddly enough could do with both more brevity and more historical context.
If a future fascist dictatorship wants to steal the DVD copies of this film, we should probably just let them.