The Monuments Men is history according to Hollywood as the lack of acknowledgement of British, French and Russian assistance is a regular feature of Hollywood films (Saving Private Ryan for example) but to be fair it probably isn’t any different other nation’s cinematic output. Lack of historical accuracy isn’t really worth getting annoyed about unless it his dangerously emotionally manipulative, like The Deer Hunter, a film very much a product of the time it was made. Anyway, directed and starring George Clooney, The Monuments Men is about group of allied soldiers stealing the classics works of art back from those pesky Nazis.
The Monuments Men isn’t a war film, but a film set in a period where war serves as a strong backdrop. The fighting and civilian suffering are both topics which are limitedly discussed, but that is because it isn’t the main message of the film. The message is about the importance of preserving ones culture, art and history as without it be like that culture never existed. However, as the film attempts to deal with a dark backdrop, George Clooney (serving as director for a fifth time) struggles to successfully gel the rather jagged tonal shifts from light hearted humour and schmaltzy sentimentality to discussions about the brutality of war and importance of preserving culture.
Clooney does attempt to add some light to the colossal loss of life during the world’s most deadly conflict, but the audience is never given a reason to fully care about any of the central characters so the film fails massively in engaging its audience. Lack of empathy adds to the episodic feel of the film as the character’s split up, mostly into pairs, with Matt Damon’s Lt. James Granger storyline being the least interesting.
Another aspect where the film fails is the humour, the trailer for the film made it seem that Clooney’s latest film was a comedy, but Clooney’s script fails to bring any humour to proceedings, even when questioning Granger’s rather foolish decision to step on a landmine which often ends in unfavorable result for the unlucky victim. The failure to move and amuse is largely due to the rather dull script and plodding pace. The lack of chemistry between the cast is also a main reason that the film fails to bring any laughs.
Even performance wise the film is forgettable, Clooney drops the ball on a number of occasions as he fails to manage the pace, successfully navigate the film’s jarring tonal shifts and fails to get his actors to deliver effective performances. Bill Murray’s performance is so deadpan it impossible to tell whether he is actually that bored, Cate Blanchett ‘s French accent leaves a lot to be desired and the rest of the cast are just as forgettable.
In a world in which Germany saw the rise of the Nazis, a squashing of personal freedom and every German speak German apart from the main characters, a young girl, Liesel Meminger (Sophie Nélisse), is forced to leave her mother and live with the kind hearted Hans Hubermann (Geoffrey Rush) and strict Rosa Hubermann (Emily Watson). Shortly after Liesel has settled in her new home a new arrival appears on the doorstep, a young Jewish man named Max Vandenburg (Ben Schnetzer) who the Hubermanns hide in the basement away from the Nazi regime. Based on the novel of the same name by Markus Zusak The Book Thief looks at various events leading up to and during the war through the eyes of a child.
Brain Percival’s film is in a long list of films that looks at the Second World War through the eyes of a child (The Boy in Striped Pajamas for example), and because of that the tone of the film is more in line with Spielberg’s War Horse than it is with Schindler’s List. Brian Percival’s films moves rather episodicly through a number of major events in Nazi Germany (such as Kristallnacht and the allied bombings of Germany) without really fleshing them out in great detail. The film historical setting has less depth than a GCSE history textbook thus making the historical setting rather limited in its effectiveness in certain areas, particularly in relation to Max (there is no tension when the Nazis conduct basement searches) and the lack of food (casual references to starvation are about as far the as the film goes).
Clearly, Brian Percival's The Book Thief is a typically Hollywood affair as there is no great depth but it does remain an effective tear jerker because of the impressive performances from the actors. Sophie Nélisse is excellent in the lead role, as is her young costar Nico Liersch (as her friend, Rudy) but Geoffrey Rush (along with Sophie) becomes the heart and soul of the film with his tender performance as Hans Hubermann. The unexpectedly dark twist ending adds an emotional layer sorely needed as the film struggles to maintain and even pace over the course of its two hour running time