I guess it’s one thing to rescue great works of art from the grips of the Nazis, it’s another to make a great movie about it. Tina Fey’s joke about George Clooney should’ve been about him still floating in space while he was directing The Monuments Men instead of escaping Sandra Bullock—that would’ve been more believable.
So yes, I knew something was terribly wrong with this film when it was moved from the coveted December (Oscar race) slot last year to the dreaded February (death march) slot this year, but who knew a George Clooney-directed movie based on a best-selling book about retrieving stolen art from the Nazis starring Clooney himself, along with Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Cate Blanchett and Hugh Bonneville could go so devastatingly off course? The Monuments Men is not only off-course, it feels like it’s actually playing on the entirely wrong field. I have no idea what co-writers Clooney and Grant Heslov (based on the book by Robert M. Edsel and Bret Witter) were even thinking when they wrote this screenplay, which comes off as a literal M*A*S*H-up of Ocean’s Eleven, Hogan’s Heroes and Saving Private Ryan, with dashes of every buddy movie ever seen thrown in for good measure.
The tone of this film is so completely all over the place, I had no idea whether to laugh, cry, be tense, nervous or anxious from any single moment to the next. And I seriously don’t think the actors or the filmmakers had any idea, either. The only actor playing with any stakes at all here was Blanchett, who quite literally seems like she’s in another movie altogether. Everyone else is playing some sort of army play-camp game and Clooney is their Scout leader.
The subject here is so rife with potential and the story is a most fascinating one: the biggest treasure hunt in history, to salvage cultural and historical artifacts and to preserve artworks that are priceless, this is a monumental story that deserves to be told. But it’s clear from the start that Clooney and Heslov are lost, they seem so concerned with keeping their audience entertained, as if talking about art for two hours will lose us, so they feel the need to pander by turning this into some sort of silly buddy movie of the lowest common denominator. Nothing works here, absolutely nothing, and the constant shifts in tone are jarring at best.
Add to it the cheesy dialogue, poor editing, and by far the worst score I have ever heard from the normally genius Alexandre Desplat, and I can easily say The Monuments Men is the first major disappointment of 2014. Of course, it is February—I have only myself to blame.