The Monuments Men thinks you're stupid

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Starring George Clooney and Matt Damon. Rated PG. Now playing

It’s hard to imagine how you could miss with a big-budget recreation of the real-life reclamation of high art looted by the Nazis. And yet red flags go up, literally, in The Monument Men’s first scene, set in 1943, in which a leading art scholar lobbies president Roosevelt to save Europe’s treasure by showing him maps depicting the war’s current progress. Just what he needed!

The strategy of pitching everything over the heads of the participants, to reach an audience presumed to be innocent of history, permeates the entire production. This two-hour puzzlement was produced, directed, and co-written by George Clooney, who previously created edgier fare, like  Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and Goodnight, and Good Luck. He also stars as the abovementioned scholar, based on George Stout, founder of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program that, in reality, employed hundreds of soldiers and civilians and had genuine support from FDR and general Eisenhower.

Despite having spawned several books and a terrific PBS documentary (The Rape of Europa), the facts were not deemed sufficiently entertaining by Clooney and company. Instead, they settled on an awkwardly genial Ocean’s Eleven format, with a crack team assembled to respond to a heist, not stage one.

We’re told that the fictionalized, sometimes superannuated characters played by John Goodman, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, Hugh Bonneville, Jean Dujardin and, most prominently, Matt Damon, are all restorers, technicians, and specialists, but their skills don’t come into play at any point. The actors are primarily used for their deadpan physiognomies, to set up a jokey tone that’s entirely at odds with Alexandre Desplat’s pompous, faux-Elmer Bernstein score and the grandiose imagery of cinematographer Phedon Papamichael (who worked dry as toast in the black-and-white Nebraska).

The Damon character drifts through a vaguely insulting subplot trying to de-ice a Parisian curator played (not well) by Cate Blanchett, while Clooney gives numerous speeches about how important art is to, you know, society and all that. Remarkably, this mile-high message in no way inspired anyone to display the paintings and artifacts so coveted by advancing and retreating armies in any manner imaginative enough to actually convey what all the fuss was about. The filmmakers thought we were stupid going in, and decided to leave us that way in the end.

Comments (2) Add New Comment
Hazlit
Based on this review I probably won't go see the film, but it's interesting to talk about audience stupidity. In general I think the public IS stupid, and I don't mind when the director assumes that. But it very much depends how the director's elitism is manifested.

American directors (e.g. Quentin Tarratntino) assume you're stupid, but they make bland and characterless violent films and throw in film references just to show off. On the other hand I just went to see The Great Beauty by Paolo Sorrentino. The Great Beauty has lots of references to Italian film; it is in many ways a difficult film and it presupposes a knowledge of literature and film. Yet this form of elitism, unlike that of Taratino, teaches you something, moves you, expands your understanding.
13
21
Rating: -8
Wil
I went in to the film thinking if it sucked I would leave. George Clooney, a man who I used to kinda respect, has now shown his cards as a complete selling. Well, all movie actors are sellouts, they have to acutally personify a fictionally created character in order to get paid. I see Matt Damon as a dupe. And the Ocean's Eleven analogy was spot on, they have played that banter and it has, in my world, died.

The tone of this movie was also out of post WWII films, the bad ones. I felt like I was watching an old episode of McHale's Navy or Gilligan's Island. I guess they think the young movie goers have never seen those stupid plots and writing. This movie wasn't necessarily insulting, I thought it would be bad and I paid for it and gave it 10 minutes. My time spent doing more important things (like building my business, health, family, everything) is much more important than any 10.00 movie ticket or wasting more time exposing my brain to the kind of drivel this movie is. None of it even makes realistic sense. If John Goodman had to go thru basic training, he woudln't be standing up greeting the guys without profuse sweat and nearing a real heart attack. Instead he stands up as if he just rolled off the couch. Bad movie on all angles. The best decision I made about this movie was to leave, and that felt great. I was, at the same time, silently insulting the people who remained and at the same time feeling sorry for them, and for most of the populace, who doesn't have the clear thinking to see what movies like these are designed to do: waste our valuable time, thinking ability, action ability. The money is worthless, the time spend watching this crap is the real waste. You can do so much more with yourself without seeing movies anymore.
7
15
Rating: -8
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