Movie: The Monuments Men
My Rating: 3 stars
I hate it when Hollywood gets its grubby paws on actually fascinating, historical stories. That’s because those cynical directors and producers always feel they need to jazz up the drama to sell it to a wider audience. And, in doing so, they cheapen what makes these “true stories” so compelling in the first place—the fact that they actually happened. Although, this story is so nuanced and complex that it really would have been tough to predict how it would have been received, even in its unadulterated form.
First of all, this is a WWII drama. Those are always a big draw. But it isn’t a story about combat, or the Holocaust, or Hitler’s sick and twisted psyche. It’s about the decidedly less glamorous division of the army that was in charge of preserving historical landmarks and works of art from the ravages of war, whether it be from destruction or looting. On one hand, this is a story about spying and covert operations. But, on the other, most of the action involves reading museum inventory lists and shipping manifests. So, you’re going to lose a few people there. Although, why people wouldn’t want to learn about all the masterpieces that so narrowly escaped being destroyed forever is beyond me. That’s why I read the book. But, clearly the filmmakers didn’t think that account would be interesting enough based on the money they must have had to shell out to lure in its A-list cast. Just reading from the top of the call sheet we see George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, John Goodman, and Jean Dujardin. That can’t have been cheap.
All this being said, I’m not quite sure what could be done to fix the film. It definitely didn’t need all the jokey humor sequences. I understand comic relief and all, but it felt out of place. I guess they could have tried to make this more of a “racing-the-clock” thriller. Because, these guys really did face a pretty harrowing time crunch. They had to track down shipments of stolen art before they disappeared into untraceable Nazi cellars, or even worse, were destroyed out of spite. But, these hunts played out over the course of months and years, so it might have been hard to make the timing feel tense. But, I’m just grasping at straws here. I’m not a filmmaker.
Maybe this movie would have just been better as a documentary. That would have been very satisfying. The story really is one of the most interesting parts of the war that we’re never taught. Of course, the audience for documentaries is usually pretty small. So, I understand why the studio may have wanted to turn this into more of a historical fiction with stylized action and big name actors. But, I wasn’t too impressed. I guess this movie is worth watching if you don’t know anything about this history. It’s worth learning about. But, really I think you’d be better off with the book.