Based (rather loosely, according to all reports) on a true story, The Monuments Men is actually built around an intriguing premise, the exploits of a team of art historians, who in the final days of the 2nd World War, are charged with the task of rescuing some of the great works of art appropriated by the Nazis. Frank Stokes (George Clooney) and his veteran team undergo basic training (a piece of cake apparently) and then head off to a series of exotic locations in search of Hitler’s pilfered masterpieces, while the war rumbles on, rather half-heartedly, in the background.
Handsomely mounted and featuring a cast to die for – Clooney, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchette, Bill Murray… (I could go on), the overwhelming mystery here is why the resulting movie is so fatally uninvolving. Perhaps the blame lies with the lukewarm script by Clooney and Grant Heslov, which barely touches upon the irony of men giving their lives to save art (one short scene in John Frankenheimer’s The Train (1964) says it more eloquently than this entire movie does) or perhaps it’s the fact that the story never manages to generate any real fire in its belly and becomes a series of ‘almost did’ events. Damon’s character for instance, almost has a romantic liaison with Blanchette’s art historian, but instead, does the decent thing and goes home. Hugh Bonneville as a disgraced historian, who given a second chance decides to be a hero, almost manages to raise a tear but, not quite. Likewise when Damon’s character stands on an unexploded land mine, an opportunity to generate some genuine suspense if ever there was one, the device turns out to be a dud.
Ultimately, this is a decent enough attempt at telling a story, yet there remains the distinct conviction that the story must surely have been grittier and more dynamic than this and consequently, The Monuments Men should be filed under L for lost opportunities.