For better or worse, George Clooney has a fascination with sharing lesser-remembered parts of history. Previous movies that he’s written and directed include Good Night and Good Luck (about famed news anchor Edward R. Murrow’s run in with Senator McCarthy) and Leatherheads (about the origins of professional football), all using the same formula of trying to make a statement about modern society while incorporating snappy dialogue. Sometimes it works better than others – while Leatherheads clearly showed its genesis from the movies of the 1940s and 1950s, the subject matter itself wasn’t that compelling.
The Monument’s Men is about the troops who sought to preserve art and architecture during the Allied invasion of Europe. When the movie opens, George Clooney’s character convinces Franklin D. Roosevelt to send in a team of older men (the young ones are all fighting) to find and store art stolen by the Nazis from public and private collections in Europe. While that’s certainly an interesting premise, the film immediately introduces a large cast of character so immense that it’s hard for any of them to stand out as characters. Perhaps the only one who achieves this is Matt Damon‘s James Granger and that isn’t for the right reasons. Damon’s big break as an actor was portraying Pvt. James Ryan and so when Damon talks about “our boys in Normandy”, it’s hard not to remind him that he’s already over there as a paratrooper (or at least, the version of himself twenty years younger is).
The movie also takes no bones about making big emotional moments, even where subtle ones would do. We learn early on that one character (portrayed by British-Greek actor Dimitri Leonidas) is a German refugee from 1938 – rather than allowing American audiences to fill in the blanks as to why his family would have fled persecution, the movie insists on filling it in, in detail. It’s a moving story, but the film makes no use of subtly. A subplot with Cate Blanchett as a French resistance member who helps to locate stolen paintings feels unnecessarily shoe-horned in (I always appreciate an attempt to add some women to an overwhelmingly male movie, but it would have been great if the movie had organically added in one of the female Monuments Men.) Overall, an entertaining viewing, but the pat sentimentality and cartoon dilemma of the good Americans v evil Nazis means that there’s no real emotional resonance after leaving the theatre.
Chocolate Madeleines (adapted from John Whaite Bakes)
100g caster sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons espresso powder
85g plain flour
15g cocoa powder
100g salted butter (I used unsalted and added a teaspoon of salt)