What went wrong with The Monuments Men? Nothing short of the attempt to balance the dramatic element of the film with the comedic element.
The Monuments Men, originally scheduled for release in December 2013 in order to qualify for the awards season, was pushed back due to problems in the post-production (editing) process. It opened this month, and
The Monuments Men, with the tag line of 'based on a true story,' is about a group of men during World War 2 who set about saving valuable works of art form the hands of the Nazis towards the end of WW2.
George Clooney, star, director, co-screenwriter and co-producer, plays the head savoir of the art team, and gets together a posse of friends to be in his movie. These friends include Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett and John Goodman. From there, his character puts together a team (which also includes roles played by Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban, and English actor Hugh Bonneville), with the older characters selected because of their experience with history and architecture.
The dramatic element of the film works fine: Men in the middle of a very dangerous war in occupied countries are tasked to retrieve stolen art. Deaths occur, fighting goes on all around them. Even the realistic looking art and set direction would have made for a good movie. But the comedic element just does not work.
What you have onscreen is a mish-mash of actors of varying ages who are playing their characters, but it's the older ones who are the brunt of many jokes. Goodman has a hard time in basic training and just generally getting around due to his weight. Dujardin has a thick French accent, which is made fun of, but is it funny? No. And Balaban is completely blind when he doesn't have his spectacles. There is one strange scene where Balaban's character has a standoff with a German soldier. Nothing really happens in that scene, but we are supposed to find it funny that both Balaban and the soldier don't know what the other is thinking or going to do, until the soldier goes away, happy with the cigarette that was given to him. Huh?
There also seems to be a separate movie going on between Damon's character, who is tasked with actually delivering the art to the rightful owners, and Blanchett's character, the lonely and vulnerable Claire Simone, a curator who is forced to allow the Nazi's to steal valuable art. Simone pines for Damon, but he's a married man, and his duty is to deliver art, and nothing more. Damon's character pops back to the team from time to time to remind us he's still in the film, and almost to connect his and Simone's storyline to the rest of the men's movie.
The problem with The Monuments Men is that the film just does not work. Even at the end, when a very valuable and sentimental piece of art work that was stolen is found hidden away in a cave, there really is no emotional impact for the viewer. And in the final final scene, Clooney employs his father to play him as an older man to try to tweak some kind of final wrung of emotion, but that also fails.
The Monuments Men was made for a whopping $75,000,000. It has so far grossed a paltry $30,000,000 in the U.S., and it has just opened up in the UK. Clooney, in acting as the film's driver, needs a wakeup call in that not everything he does does turns into gold. In this case, The Monuments Men turns to dust. No team will ever be able to save this piece of art.