The Monuments Men is a perfectly good movie. It’s entertaining, fast-paced, well-acted, and smartly-constructed. It may not have much deeper meaning than what it strives for, but it accomplishes its mission with aplomb. It tells the true story of a small group of artists from various fields, all a little past their prime, recruited into the army in the waning days of WW2 to rescue priceless antiquities from being stolen or destroyed by Hitler’s forces.
The mood is kept generally light, it’s nice to see a war-comedy that strikes a good balance between the gravity of the setting and outright silliness. It’s neither Hogan’s Heroes, nor Saving Private Ryan, nor Life Is Beautiful. The large all-star cast in humorous action or planning scenes evokes a sort of Ocean’s 11-in-fatigues feel. Writer-director-star George Clooney and his co-writer Grant Heslov’s script has a clever device for handling what could be an unwieldy group. The characters are paired off for most of the movie – Bill Murray & Bob Balaban, John Goodman & Jean Dujardin, Matt Damon & Cate Blanchette – with the structure that works like a collection of funny vignettes moving back and forth between each pair.
The film was originally scheduled to be released last December, where it’s pedigree alone had already drummed up a considerable amount of awards-season talk. The producers, preferring the film to be cast in a more populist light, made the enlightened decision to push it back to February, thus avoiding any perceived “Oscar-snobbery.”
This was a great decision. It doubtless could have done quite well with awards. It’s a very finely crafted piece of filmmaking, with lots of talent both on and off screen. In fact, it likely could have made a major play for the top prize, maybe even won. Was it as good as those that did? Not even close. But it’s precisely the kind of well-made feel-good movie that no one can really dislike that so often wins awards. (Make no mistake: this year’s close race between two cutting-edge modern classics was a fluke.)
So pulling it out of the race and marketing it to the public instead of the campaigners was a great decision. The race was left to many superior players, and perhaps even more importantly, the usual February doldrums in the theaters – a time of year now famous for releasing the very worst movies – got a break with a decent piece of entertainment that’s worth the cost of admission.