Review of Reviews: What happened, George?

The importance of being earnest
The importance of being earnest

George is back. He’s back and he’s bad. 34% bad.

Were you as excited as I was to see Monuments Men? It seemed to have it all: Our man George who co-wrote, directed and stars in; a great plot (Geeks join the US army in its effort to recover art masterpieces before Hitler grabs them for possible burning or to add to his underground collection; and an amazing cast (Bill Murray, Cate Blanchette, Matt Damon, John Goodman and the NBC exec who was obsessed with Elaine on Seinfeld).

But it didn’t work out. Only 56% of the audience like it. I read three reviews to find out how this happened:

1. David Edelstein: critic for New York Magazine, and NPR’s Fresh Air

Rape-of-EuropaSpoilers: Too many that are not so easy to skim.

Edelstein believes that Clooney didn’t take enough risks. It’s a mediocre movie that could have been done much better and, in fact, the same story has been told much better by two movies: The 2006 documentary The Rape of Europa and The Train, a 1964 drama directed by John Frankenheimer starring Paul Scofield and Burt Lancaster.

As for Monument Men, Edelstein opines that there is too much proselytizing (apparently a common objection) about the value of art to society. D Edelstein thinks it’s because George has no faith in his audiences: he doesn’t think they would understand without a straight-forward explanation.

Edelstein’s conclusion:

The Monuments Men isn’t terrible. Coming in the wake of wars that have been far more morally confusing, it’s an earnest tribute to decency, to good taste. The movie could have been called, The Dainty Dozen

(Love that!)

2. David Denby (The New Yorker)

Spoilers: A twofer!  Denby also mentions 1964’s The Train. Within the spoiler-laden review of Monuments Men is a spoiler-laden description of The Train.

I would love to see The Train so I skipped most of the first long paragraph that mentions this movie.

Also like Edelstein, Denby thinks there are too many diatribes. He goes further and finds it ironic that Clooney’s character talks about the worth of art to civilization, yet “you realize that most of the works will be returned to private collections. Those paintings weren’t part of a publicly shared heritage.”

I must disagree with D Denby. That the paintings went to private collections is irrelevant, both to what Clooney’s character lectures about and to the paintings’s part of a “publicly shared heritage.” Someone has to own these paintings in the first place!Many owners lend or bequeath them to museums.

Moving on–

the trainI like how Denby shows that the movie is formulaic:

[At the beginning of the movie Clooney’s character] rounds up his crew–like Ocean’s Eleven….and one of those large-scale films from decades ago about misfits operating behind enemy lines, like The Dirty Dozen. (“crazy guys as war genre” has recently been blown over the top by Quentin Tarantino in Inglourious Basterds,  and parodied by Ben Stiller in Tropic Thunder.)

Note that Edelstein also refers to The Dirty Dozen with his moniker for the movie, The Dainty Dozen. Those Davids do seem to think alike.

Denby’s recognition that the plot is inauthentic and Clooney’s direction erratic is also interesting:

For long stretches, the tone is self-mocking….blundering out of shape guys tripping into history, but then suddenly Clooney will throw in a young soldier dying in a welter of blood.

Denby concludes, It is hard to take them seriously so we’ve just about lost the pleasures of heroism.

3. Jake Coyle, ABC news. (He also writes about film for the AP)

Spoilers: He too mentions The Train and gives up some spoilers, but his spoilers are different from Denby’s. Coyle’s are not as bad. He tells the plot line with a a little too much detail for my taste, but it’s not horrible.) However, both men have unwittingly conspired to give me much too much info about The Train.  (Using methodology I discovered on, I am about to erase all spoilers from my memory.)

To Coyle, the movie is too pat. It feels like “it’s only a third act, lacking any buildup of tension or character development.”

Coyle describes the real story that the film is based on:

In truth, more than 300 Allied servicemen and women worked in the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives program in the final years of the war. They helped lead to the recovery of about 6 million objects (estimates vary). Most of the names in the film have been changed, and the mission has been made significantly more romantic.

Coyle mentions all of the movies Clooney directed and co wrote–I didn’t know that about some of them–and that George’s potential has not being fulfilled. In fact his later movies aren’t as good as his earlier ones.

Here’s what Coyle writes about the movies  Clooney directed:

He began with two stories about television’s power, both to distort reality (“Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” about “Gong Show” host Chuck Barris) and to reveal it (“Good Night, and Good Luck,” about Edward R. Murrow). Neither was perfect, but the films showed tremendous potential, particularly the latter, with its thick clouds of paranoia and cigarette smoke.

But Clooney has gone somewhat astray, with the football comedy “Leatherheads,” the political thriller “The Ides of March” and now “The Monuments Men.” They’re not bad

obliged mm
Obligatory picture

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