George Clooney directs an all-star ensemble cast in The Monuments Men, a war drama based on the true story of a small allied team tasked with locating and protecting famous pieces of art and culturally significant artefacts. It’s a worthwhile tale worth telling, but it sure takes its time to get going – the scope of the story would have been better suited to a TV miniseries rather than a full-length feature.
Clooney is Frank Stokes, an art aficionado who manages to convince the President to commission a small team to land in Europe to seek out and save historical pieces that have fallen into Nazi hands. Stokes’ team is comprised of various art historians, most of whom no longer have a spring in their step. It’s a stellar line-up featuring the likes of Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban, Hugh Bonneville and even Cate Blanchett as a museum curator in Paris.
The problem is that with such a phenomenal cast (and it really is), Clooney is determined to give everyone their due. The result is an episodic structure that splits the cast members off into their own side stories. Goodman and Dujardin do battle with a sniper, Murray and Balaban track down stolen religious artwork, Damon tries to get on Blanchett’s less-uppity side… you get the picture.
The film is at its most interesting when these plot threads intermingle, but it takes a while to build momentum. At least the humour is witty and, although not consistent, adds a good deal of levity to the situation which, when you boil it down, is about a bunch of dotty old art lovers getting in well over their heads in Nazi-occupied Europe. Its pacing is off, the tone is inconsistent but the story is an important and untold one about fighting for our history – at once nostalgic, eccentric and endearing enough to recommend.
The Monuments Men struggles with a slow start, but its ensemble cast carries it across the line.