Movie review: ‘The Monuments Men’

That wasn’t bad … but it sure wasn’t good.

“The Monuments Men” is a World War II movie that isn’t about war. This true story is acted, written and directed by George Clooney. Clooney played Frank Stokes, the leader of a platoon of art experts and collectors. They went on a nearly impossible mission ordered by President Franklin D. Roosevelt himself to journey into the heart of Europe during the tail end of the war to take back all the precious art stolen by Hitler and his Third Reich.

Clooney is joined by an ensemble of (usually) blockbuster actors: Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Hugh Bonneville, Bob Balaban and Dimitri Leonidas, and thank God most of them are veteran screen actors – they can bury this deep in their résumé.

This movie was so vanilla, it was almost ironically representational of the mission that it was about. It was fairly important but not enough to change anything, and will likely be forgotten by most. It was almost too faithful to the original story.

The introduction consisted of a montage of paintings and SS soldiers hammering shut shipping crates filled with art. This redefines lack of creativity for a film about Nazis stealing art. I felt like inside those crates were my brain and the hammers were Clooney’s voice saying, “Guess what this movie is about?”

Fortunately, Clooney drew some inspiration from his success in the “Oceans” series. The banter between his character and Damon’s was the highlight of the film, but that was expected. Speaking of which, so was everything else.

Being a movie that involved war, “The Monuments Men” had include a motivational speech. (Wow, who woulda’ thunk!) This predictable task was regrettably spit out by Clooney, who said, “Who would be sure the statue of David is still standing? Or that Mona Lisa is still smiling?” I could have written that … before I studied screenplays.

I could just imagine Steven Spielberg sitting at the premiere in London with his head buried in his hands, asking himself why someone would do this to the war genre. There are little hints of his influence scattered throughout, such as a young German who gets surrounded by the American soldiers and tries to reason with them with the only English he knew – “John Wayne.” I instantly thought of the captured Nazi soldier in “Saving Private Ryan” who pleads freedom by saying, “Fuck Hitler,” in broken English. This time though, I sighed and wished it had been more thought out.

The only scenes that really got to me were the shots of the Nazis emptying their flamethrowers on countless rooms of fine art. The only problem is that I knew those shots would be there. I saw them in the previews. If they had not been in the previews it would have added much more shock value.

If you want a heart-pounding war movie, you might want to look elsewhere, such as “Lone Survivor.” But if you want to watch something that seems like it might be historically accurate or you want to cure your insomnia, you will enjoy this movie.