Friday, 28 February 2014

The Monuments Men

Every Oscar season there is at least one film that critics and audiences get sniffy about, commenting on how it failed expectations and how the cast and crew really should have known better. This year’s main entrant into this disreputable company is The Monuments Men, the tale of a rag tag team of art scholars trying desperately to save artistic treasures from Nazi inferno. Directed and starring George Clooney, alongside Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, John Goodman, Bill Murray and others, one has to wonder what possibly could have gone wrong – or, perhaps, right.

Most notable is that, despite all expectations, the film seems to have been considered a potential awards contender almost accidently rather than on purpose, as it certainly does not fit the bill. Never once does it fall into that pretentious Second World War Oscar stupor that begrudging returns year upon year, heaping yet more ‘worthiness’ upon a subject cinema has frankly done to death. Instead, Clooney has chosen to do something that ironically appears as a breath of fresh air, harking back to the glory days of men on mission WWII pictures, as the team faces seemingly impossible odds on their quest to defeat dastardly Hun. The resulting film for the most part is, therefore, actually quite jolly, lively and fun, remembering the old joy of those films and heaping on nostalgia in droves. The fond memories evoked of afternoons spent watching The Cockleshell Heroes or the glorious The Guns of Navarone directly influence your enjoyment of the film, though, to tell the truth, the sentiment is occasionally nauseating. One problem is that the picture occasionally drifts and almost seems at odds with this nostalgic tone.  
For all its lumps and bumps, the quality of the acting speaks for itself with Clooney and the gang watchable as ever. Their characters are nothing new and performances hardly revelatory but these are all people who know how to behave in front of celluloid. You cannot help but root for, care for and wish them well. And the film does indeed have moments of beauty and brilliance, be it a recorded message from home or a doomed act of redemption. These moments do genuinely tug deeply at the heartstrings and are simply joyous to behold.

The Monuments Men's tone is occasionally jarring and problematic, and is never entirely sure what it wants to do with itself. Certainly, it does not seem like a deep worthy piece of Oscar fodder. But does this really matter? The film is genuinely very funny and at times deeply moving, as well as being chock-full of performers whose presence is guaranteed to make you smile. Yes, it is nostalgic and sentimental but there is real joy, and at the end of the day if you can’t be sentimental about art, what can you be sentimental about? 

James Absolon 

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