Friday, February 26, 2016

The Monuments Men

Some mild Spoilers.

World War II is beginning to come to a close as the Allies slowly and surely beat the Nazis back out of the cities they've invaded. But a new problem that many didn't see coming arises: as the Nazi troops leave, they take with them whatever they want, and often destroy the city as they go. Cities full of old buildings and monuments of historical and artistic value. And they take whatever they can move; statues and paintings by the thousands. One man did see it coming, and he pulls together a group of rag-tag men who are willing to risk their lives. Their mission? To protect the art they can, and retrieve what was already stolen.

Damon and Clooney in a "old man" movie. What is the world coming to...?

Besides having the adapted screenplay written by him and being directed by him, The Monuments Men cast is led by . is his right-hand man, is an architect, is a sculptor, ran a ballet; is a Frenchman whose initial purpose I've forgotten, is the British team member, and is a young Jewish German who fled Germany before the war and serves as an interpreter. There's also present, as a French woman who keeps tabs on the art she witnesses being moved, but has a hard time trusting anyone with her knowledge. Of all these characters I was surprised to enjoy Jean Dujardin's the most. He had a natural charisma that the film's lackluster style couldn't drag down.

And with that remark I'm going to go ahead and say right now: I did not enjoy this movie. In fact, it bored me silly. I won't go so far as to say that it was a bad movie, because technically it was well-made, and I'm pretty sure it succeeded in doing exactly what it wanted to, and I want to give it credit for that. However, I have issues to take, and jaded insults to toss. So let this serve as a disclaimer, and let's get to it!

Please direct your attention to the front of the class.

I'll start with the boringness of it all. I haven't been this bored by a movie since I grew out of being too young to "get" some movies. And I have never been this bored during a Matt Damon movie. Lately I've been examining the building intensity before resolution of each act in a three-act story format, and over the past few weeks I've become very aware of it while watching movies. Well, Monuments Men was so boring that I couldn't tell what was supposed to be the act changes because it was all the same droning, dull, plodding tone. Looking back, I suppose the end of act one and two were deaths, which was... a bad idea. It was not a good idea. And even at the end when they find that one piece of art they've been looking for the whole time, I knew (and I was relieved) that it was finally the end, but it didn't feel like an end; it was just as anti-climactic and completely devoid of excitement as the rest of the movie.

Damon and Blanchett watch paint dry. Or this movie. It's tough to tell.

One of the film's main themes -- actually it was the main theme -- was the question of whether or not it was worth risking human lives to retrieve art that had been formed by human hands. Two of the Monuments Men die while protecting and searching for the stolen art. And both deaths are accompanied by sad monologues about the importance of their mission. But with each death and monologue I was less and less convinced. They kept saying it was about the history and the culture and I kept thinking that knowingly giving up human lives for memorabilia from the past is not a good trade.

Not to disparage the people who thought it was worth it and took the risk, I do respect them, but this whole movie was trying to justify that mindset as something that is always true and right, and it never won me over -- and not just because I disagreed with it. I watch movies all the time that proclaim things I disagree with, and I usually find myself having suspended belief for the movie's duration. It's not like I wasn't willing to briefly suspend my opinions in favor of those of The Monuments Men; it was just never able to pull my mind out of reality and into its story. I just spent the whole two hours sitting on the living room couch, bored, waiting for the action that never came, while rolling my eyes at the miles of spark-less conversations, the calm attempts at humor and the overplayed death scenes.

Okay, pack it up -- show's over!

Once in a while there was a moment or two that edged briefly onto the memorable and enjoyable side, and then there were the few things I actively disliked, but for the most part this film never touched me at all. Neutral. Sometimes a movie being careful and winding up neutral is worse than its taking risks and failing in the eyes of some. What am I saying? It's always worse. It seems to me that this movie could have learned a thing or two from its brave and committed title heroes.