Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Making The Most Out Of The Mediocrity Of THE MONUMENTS MEN

So yeah, I'm not alone thinking that George Clooney’s fifth film as filmmaker, THE MONUMENTS MEN, is his weakest effort yet despite its exceedingly strong cast. Sunday evening, I discussed the movie, currently #2 at the box office, with my friend Kevin Brewer on his podcast (postmodcast) who found it be “banal.” 

I agreed and sadly mused that it was such a waste to assemble such a mighty group of actors - Clooney fronts a crew made up of Bill Murray, Matt Damon, John Goodman, Bob Balaban, Jean Dujardin (Best Actor Oscar winner for THE ARTIST), Cate Blanchett, and the guy from Downton Abbey (Hugh Bonneville) – and give them so little distinctive to do.

Clooney, who co-wrote the film with frequent collaborator Grant Heslov, has a promisingly noble premise in his hands involving a troop of aging oddballs who don battle fatigues to advance to the front lines of World War II to recover stolen art from the Nazis, but the execution is so boringly by-the-numbers. It’s no surprise to me that the film has a 34% Rotten rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website.

It’s great that Murray can do so much with just a few dry facial expressions because the screenplay gives him no memorable dialogue to work with here.

In our podcast chat, Kevin and I singled out Murray because we’re both big fans. I brought up how many directors often screen films during pre-production to their cast and crews to get the gist of what they’re going for – i.e. Paul Thomas Anderson screened Sidney Lumet's 1976 classic NETWORK to his team before filming began on MAGNOLIA – and that maybe Clooney should’ve shown Murray’s STRIPES (Dir. Ivan Reitman, 1981) to his people before they tackled the material. This occurred to me when watching Murray go through THE MONUMENT MEN's lamely written basic training scene. Kevin said that and THE DIRTY DOZEN (Dir. Robert Aldrich, 1967) would’ve made a good double feature for them.

I mean, Murray’s latest appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman, in which he flew in on wires dressed as Peter Pan and had a shave during the interview, is absolutely more of an event than this movie.

This could be seen as a Major Spoiler but I also disliked how the ending was a slight re-write of the ending of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, a film that THE MONUMENTS MEN often feels like a comic companion to in its tone, the appearance of Damon as a heroic soldier, and the coming ashore to Normandy beach scene with its swelling score (Alexander Desplat aping John Williams). 

Here, the conclusion has Clooney’s character (played by Clooney’s 80-year old father Nick Clooney) decades after the War visiting a museum to view some of the art they saved with his grandson. It’s the same Spielbergian “was it all worth it?” sentiment.

But then my wife liked the movie, and even teared up at times. She posted a picture on my Facebook wall of one of the main pieces of art that was featured in the film: Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child inside Bruges Cathedral. It touched her because she’d seen it in person. She said that “it’s very unusual to find a Michelangelo outside of Italy. It’s in a tiny little church in a town that looks like medieval Belgium – not like huge Vatican stuff – a tiny little church, and they have a Michelangelo and it’s beautiful.”

I can appreciate that personal connection, but it still doesn’t elevate THE MONUMENTS MEN for me to being any more than a competently made yet majorly mediocre piece of film fodder.

It’s not an embarrassingly bad experience – just one that doesn’t take any risks or have any real oomph to it. A scene in which Damon steps on an unexploded landmine in a cave and his fellow cast members try to figure out how to help him is a good example of a bit that could’ve been hilarious but only ends up mildly amusing.

At its best, “mildly amusing” is really all THE MONUMENTS MEN has to offer.

More later...

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