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 The Monuments Men - Film Review

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Enlightened Viewer

PostSubject: The Monuments Men - Film Review   Mon Mar 03, 2014 9:39 am

George Clooney’s film The Monuments Men has received considerable criticism. On one hand critics consider it fails as an action film; that it lacks dramatic pace, the humour falls flat, the tone is overly nostalgic, plus it contains historical inaccuracy. On the other hand the cinematography is excellent and the movie is about aspiration and culture at risk (Steve Pulaski – Influx Magazine).

The conclusion I came to after watching The Monuments Men, was that Clooney had produce a retro-style film that held your hand through some aspects of the operation, aimed at protecting and recovering stolen artefacts during Germany’s retreat, towards the end of World War 2. If this had been a documentary, I would have expected more detail in relation to other aspects of this operation. However, as this is a dramatized version of a ‘true story’ I would expect the films focus to be limited, to give a taste of the whole affair, not the entire pie. What Clooney does is to take us through one Army unit’s effort. In addition, he focuses upon 2 pieces of art amongst the enormity of what was actually stolen. Clooney may have played hard and fast with the number of men involved in this effort, but he does indicate the origins of The Monuments Men as being prior to 1944. However, focusing upon a smaller number of individuals and 2 pieces of art, does allow for a more personal perspective on the story. I’d also argue that a film of this nature doesn’t necessarily need a ‘plot’ per se, as the intention is to reflect real life events rather than completely fictionalise them.

I didn’t feel the humour fell flat in this film. Instead of producing guffaws, it was a gentle, often wry, affair. Certainly the audience I was with chuckled and I found myself smiling. I also felt that, due to the age of a number of the actors, if this film had been an ‘action film’ it would have stretched credibility to breaking point. I would argue that Clooney aimed to focus upon the frailty of the human condition, as scenes which contained the threat of action, or a low level of action, demonstrated alternative ways of dealing with threat and the cost of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. There is an intentional level of pathos regarding the human cost of recovering these works of art but, on the downside, I did feel the point regarding the value of culture, in relation to humanity, was a little over laboured. At times, I also found the music fell into this category, as it highlighted when a ‘pathos’ moment was about to occur which served to detract from, rather than emphasise, the point.

The style in which The Monuments Men is shot is simple, straightforward and effective. There is a lovely clarity about the locations and situations the characters find themselves in, which gives the film verisimilitude and visual depth. Performances are solid, but to an extent predictable due to the actors chosen. I felt that this predictability is possibly what has led to some critics considering the characters shallow. Also, because the film’s focus is upon the actions of the men once they are in the unit, the spectator is only given sporadic background information. We are given a snippet of information concerning Claire Simone (Cate Blanchett)that serves to establish she is working with the Resistance, but arguably no character is fully fleshed out. I consider there was simply too much to establish here in a suitable time frame. If The Monuments Men had been an ‘action’ film, this omission wouldn’t matter. Because the film is reflective, it does.

So, The Monuments Men is an earnest film that argues a society with no culture loses its humanity. It begins by saying that a human life is worth more than art, it ends with the decision that saving the art was worth the lives lost. It is a film of good intentions, but the audience needs to empathise with the characters involved in the struggle depicted and this is where the film fails to deliver. However, it is an enjoyable and beautifully filmed experience, despite its flaws.
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