While Nazis retreat and Allies advance through the rubble of Europe in 1944, a misfit platoon of scholars are deployed to “protect what’s left and find what’s missing” of the priceless art collections plundered by failed art student turned dictator Adolf Hitler for a museum in his name.
Marketed in theatrical trailers as if it is Ocean’s 11 Goes to War, this revisionist and uneven biographical tale boasts an impressive ensemble as its saving grace, most of whom have acted opposite each other in the past, reminiscent of the top heavy casts in those Boy’s Own adventure movies of the 1960s and 1970s.
But instead of legendary hell raisers starring as macho commandoes winning the war single-handedly, the American centric Monuments Men are depicted as pompous professors and ageing architects, with a token Brit (Hugh Bonneville) and Frenchman (Jean Dujardin) along for the ride.
These treasure hunters race to recover the foundations of Western society before Hitler’s slash and burn decree takes full effect and before the Russian “trophy brigades” seize whatever is left as war reparation.
The Monuments Men tries to get by on breezy, twinkly eyed charm, much like its director and star, and the camaraderie of its attractive cast, although disappointingly they are rarely in the same scene together.
Blanchett, who always looks the part wearing spectacles, cardigan and riding a bicycle in war-time capers, and Bonneville do the heavy lifting playing the only two characters who suffer loss and gamble everything on the recovery of culture.
The clever reveal of a top Nazi and his looted paintings hiding in plain sight and the pause to appreciate a race horse which turns lethal are the high water marks which signalled a superior film was well within reach of Clooney and regular co-screenwriter Grant Heslov.
The Monuments Men is a good looking and easily digestible take on a rare untold story of World War II. However, it is drama without edge, a romance without fire and a comedy without laughs.
TWO POPCORNS OUT OF FIVE
The Monuments Men (M)
Starring: George Clooney (Gravity), Matt Damon (Elysium), Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine).
Directed by: George Clooney (The Ides of March, Leatherheads).
Screening: Reading Cinemas Queenstown
– Otago Daily Times