Monuments Men, “Oh Shoot, We Forgot to Pay the Writers”
February 11, 2014
I first heard of this movie from a friend, all of thirty minutes before I went to see it. When I asked about it, all my buddy said was: “you know, it’s the movie with George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Cate Blanchett and a bunch of other people.” When I walked out of the movie, I realized how insightful my friend was, because Monuments Men really just served as a segue for watching a bunch of (admittedly amazing) people, dressed up in World War II garb. The only downside to seeing all of these actors together in a movie, was the fact that the writing not only seemed lacking, but also virtually non-existent, as if the producers realized that they spent the movie’s entire budget on hiring stars that they ran out of money for hiring writers.
The premise of the film is based on the true story (or at least Hollywood’s version “based,” which actually means “only somewhat reminiscent of, in a vague and far-removed way”) of a special team of middle-aged to very aged art historians who join the military towards the end of World War II, tasked to save important monuments and works of art from destruction and theft.
Thus emerges one of the two points that the movie shamelessly beats into the reader’s head: these guys are too old to be fighting in a war. At the beginning of the film, when John Goodman stands up in the middle of a basic training exercise, thinking that the rifles going off above his head were only blanks (turns out they were live rounds!), the dissonance between his old age, poor health, aristocratic upbringing and his training to become a soldier is comedic and almost charming. However, any trace of this charm is long gone two hours into the movie, by which point we have seen Bob Balban’s character receiving a care package full of fancy food, George Clooney’s character being nerdy and building a CB radio out of all the spare vaccum tubes lying around (who would leave those lying around?), Bill Murray’s character also being nerdy and practicing his refined architectural skills to diffuse a land mine, and countless cheap references to their ages.
The second of these points is that smoking is awesome! I know that this movie takes place in 1944, and I know that back then everybody smoked. However, not only is every character in Monument’s Men lighting up in just about every scene, but also two relatively long scenes are devoted to conversations that center almost exclusively around smoking. The first of these scenes is when Bill Murray’s character and Bob Balban’s character have a standoff at gunpoint with a young Nazi soldier, with whom they bond tacitly over a good ol’ American cigarette. The second is a scene between George Clooney’s character and a Nazi commander captured by the Americans just before the war is over in which Clooney has his first cigarette, then embarks on a long, rambling, and frankly irrelevant speech about how he will remember this smoke and the “stupid look” on the Nazi’s face until he hears that this particular Nazi has been hanged, at which point he will forget them both in a symbolic display of, well, something…
However, none of these examples of not-so-great writing were anything that I was not able to overlook when I saw Bill Murray make his puppy-dog eyes and pouty face then say something irreverent.
So, if you want to see some of your favorite veteran actors gallivanting across Europe in uniform to save art with the least amount of actual fighting in any war movie probably ever, I would highly consider this movie. However, If no amount of Bill Murray’s voice, Matt Damon’s smile, or everything about George Clooney, can make up for stale dialogue, random emotional liasons with horses in battlefields, and an almost love story between Matt Damon and Cate Blanchett that takes up a good portion of the movie but really ends up having no bearing on the rest of the plot, then I’d pass on Monuments Men if I were you.