THE MONUMENTS MEN – Film Review by Mark Barnes

Billed as an action comedy, this film has been fairly mullered by film reviewers for having not a lot of either going on in close on two hours. I paid eleven quid to see it at the Southend Odeon and I actually thought it had lasted longer.  But let’s be fair, the movie has a ‘12’ Certificate, which these days means you get a warning you’ll see people smoking. Even our man George has a fag at one point. The drama of it all! But the point is this film is gentle in every respect. There is humour and there is some action and the rest of it trundles along by way of a noisy Kubelwagen in a wholly unchallenging way, and maybe that is the problem.

The makers have done their homework and when you see it you will note influences from as broad a spectrum as ‘Allo ‘Allo and Hogan’s Heroes through some of our favourite cheese in the shape of Kelly’s Heroes, Hannibal Brooks and Bridge At Remagen and on to the serious stuff such as The Victors. We see our heroes trundling about like a middle aged pastiche of Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos complete with token Brit. I say, what! It’s all a bit of a hoot.

The chaps are all art historians and sculptors or architects and pretty much all mates from their days at the alma mater. Then we have our Brit and an even less likely Frenchman, who one reviewer said was completely pointless. Ouch! This film tells a big story, at times too much of one; and it seems to me that Mr Clooney didn’t know what to leave out so he chose to keep it all in. The result is a film that is half hour too long and a bit flabby with some episodes which should have been saved for the deleted scenes feature on the DVD.

The cast are all on the mark, as you would expect; and the premise of the film is eminently noble. It struck me that all the leads were pretty much just playing themselves, so thank God Sean Connery had retired or they would have needed more Kubelwagens. Hugh Bonneville seemed to be happy to have escaped being Lord Wotsit for a while, but there he was sounding just like him. Nice to see, though, that he was key to the plot and not just dressing. His character is based on a brave chap now lying in Reichswald Cemetery. The exception in all this is Cate Blanchett hamming it up with an accent that was good enough for knicker twanging bar work with our old chum René Artois. I am sure they all had a great time. In fact I like to think that when they were all knocking about making Camber and Rye into Normandy that they’d jumped in the Kubel and shipped down to the Pilot Inn at Dungeness for their fish and chips.

There is a lot more to look at and the atmosphere of the military stuff was pretty cool.  We see the serious war fighting bods of both the American and British armies being seriously narked by having these academic chumps trying to stop their war to save art. Meanwhile the Nazis are either stealing it or burning it. By the end the serious opposition are the Russians but our boys get the job done. It does seem pretty amazing that half a dozen old duffers can do all this amazing work but if you look at the website for the actual Monuments Men you will see there were quite a lot of them and archive pix used in the credits attest to this. Now of course, the film is a device to show an aspect of what these amazing men were doing and I think it would be wholly wrong to criticise it in light of that.

I would imagine this film will go great guns on DVD. I’d have a copy. There are lots of good things but the disappointments are there.  To compare it with B of B or Ryan’s Privates would be invidious. The movie wasn’t carried along on a great deal of irritating hype and you so want it to be brilliant like a new Kelly’s Heroes but it doesn’t quite get there. It has suffered it’s own negative waves. But be serious, Kelly’s Heroes was never an instant classic and has grown in affections over time. I think The Monuments Men will do the same. George, if you ever read this, rest assured I do like your film. Next stop Fury and it’s Tiger, Tiger burning bright. Bring it on!

Review by Mark Barnes for War History Online

118 minutes
Directed by George Clooney

Mark Barnes

Mark Barnes is a longstanding friend of WHO, providing features, photography and reviews. He has contributed to The Times of London and other publications. He is the author of The Liberation of Europe (pub 2016) and If War Should Come due later in 2020.