The Monuments Men vacated its original December release date to make room for The Wolf of Wall Street. Writer/Director/Actor George Clooney assured everyone that it was not because his latest film was not Oscar worthy. He just wanted more time to make the film better. Let’s see how this changed worked out for The Monuments Men.
The Monuments Men opens with the Ghent Altar artwork being taken down by the priests. They are trying to get it out of Ghent before the Nazis show up and steal it. This is the basis for the film. Frank Stokes (Clooney) convinces FDR (Michael Dalton) to allow him to assemble a team of architects and artists to go into the war to save art and buildings before they are destroyed. Behind the opening credits, we see Stokes assemble his motley crew: James Grainger (Matt Damon), Richard Campbell (Bill Murray), Walter Garfield (John Goodman), Preston Savitz (Bob Balaban), Donal Jeffries (Hugh Bonneville) and Jean Claude Clermont (Jean Dujardin).
They head into France via Normandy behind the D-Day battle. They then make their way to an Allied forces camp where they meet resistance by the Army. Stokes also meets and commandeers Sam Epstein (Dimitri Leonidas), a young Private who has German heritage and the ability to speak it. The Monuments Men split up and head out to locate and protect the art of Europe. Grainger is sent to meet with Clair Simone (Cate Blanchett), who worked for the Germans against her will. She knows what art is where, but she does not trust Grainger and his men. The rest of film simply follows these men as they track down and recover what they can.
The Monuments Men biggest drawback is its tone. It is listed as a comedy-drama, but Clooney and frequent collaborator Grant Heslov do not balance this at all. It is quite distracting. All of the actors play their parts well, even if they do not get the screen time they deserve. The Monuments Men tries to tell too many stories and utilize too many characters in too little time. If Clooney and Heslov, who also produced it, would have extended this into a mini-series, this would have fit alongside The Pacific and Band of Brothers. Not quite the same tone, but the story is as sprawling. There is just too much going on to fully develop anything well.
The move from December to February is never a good one for a film, especially for one that boasts the cast that The Monuments Men does. It feels like Ocean’s 11 via Saving Private Ryan. Despite all its flaws, I found it quite entertaining. But, when it comes to George Clooney, the man behind Good Night, and Good Luck and The Ides of March, I expect better. With the cast that includes Academy Award winners and nominees, Emmy nominees, Golden Globe winners and nominees, the bar is higher than normal. You could do worse at the theater though: Legend of Hercules and I, Frankenstein.