In the pantheon of World War II films of the non-bloodbath kind, there are some standards like “Kelly’s Heroes” (1970), “The Dirty Dozen” (1967) and “Where Eagles Dare” (1968). Two of those flicks star the squinty, gravelly-voiced Clint Eastwood and the other one stars former Marine Drill Instructor Lee Marvin and a great cast of “kick-ass and take names” types. The pantheon film closest to George Clooney’s “The Monuments Men” (opening today) is “Kelly’s Heroes” and unfortunately Mr. Clooney’s latest directorial effort fails in comparison. Each film offers reluctant heroes taking on Nazis as the Kelly’s Crew tries to capture a bank vault full of gold while the Monument’s Crew tries to save Western Civilization’s greatest artworks. After seeing one crew is stealing gold and the other crew is saving art… guess which Crew has more fun and makes for a better film.
It hurts to watch “The Monuments Men” in some ways as it earnestly tries to tell a great story and as remind us how important this same story actually is. The central problem in this film is Mr. Clooney’s bookend “speechifying” about the glory of art and why saving it from destruction is so darn important. Clooney’s character reminds us frequently that without art, people won’t know anything about the foundings of Western Civilization or how to explain it to their grandkids. To say that this is insulting to the audience is an understatement. If one mentions Leonardo Da Vinci, Pablo Picasso or Michelangelo to a country bumpkin, the country bumpkin will know that those are important names and that they mean something. Unfortunately, “The Monuments Men” screenwriters (Grant Heslov, Clooney) forget that their audience is smart enough to realize that this film is more than a simple shoot’em up or an explosion-fest. That is a shame.