George Clooney and company dig up stolen art, but it’s the score that (almost) makes the movie
Monuments follows a puny squad of art professors and historians as they lunge themselves into Nazi held territories to regain control of Michelangelo and Monet’s captured artwork. It is a film anticipatory over the backlash to its existence and almost apologetic.
Soon (backed by Alexandre Desplat’s magnificent patriotic and marching score) exposition splurges on reasoning: We need art. Nazi-dom is ravaging and destroying culture to establish their own. This speech is given to military leaders, generals, the President – all to convince a likely art-less audience of this mission’s purpose and importantly, need. Monuments is more tiring for its stern explanation than it is over this European front jaunt to reestablish pieces with their owners.
But, it happened. This was a group of actual soldiers performing their duties and slashing at German forces internally, almost invisibly. Writer Grant Heslov and director/writer/star George Clooney pen a cast of eight faces to plunder a story of mild comedic impact, an intelligently subtle piece of visual in-jokes in addition to some entertaining if ultimately wasteful scenarios.
This is but a fraction of the war and Monuments appears as such. Devoid of multi-faceted action and entering a cautious holding pattern on gunfire, this film splits from typical WWII Hollywood. By its closure, Clooney and company need to force a level of stress to build some pattern of tension and excitement which feels false – because it is.
Time is spent in the midst of detective work, scrounging for witnesses to the Nazi haul and to the potential locations of these artifacts. The eight men split apart in what it is meant to be a character building exercise, if proving too choppy and brief for the intended emotional allure. Richard Campbell (Bill Murray) and Preston Savitz (Bob Balaban) are an argumentative pair and the only ones to feel a connection. John Goodman, Matt Damon, even Clooney himself feel like the wandering types as they split their scenes until third act motivations join any remaining members.
Given the propensity for cinema to indulge in screen recreations of this war, stories have been lifted from all facets of the six year international entanglement. Nothing’s left to purge, yet Monuments remained. It’s a hard sell, more so when it’s struggling to find its footing under Clooney’s causal style. Historically, the process is interesting. As a cinematic narrative, Monuments slowly erodes itself without direction or definable structure. Good thing Desplat’s score is always there to assist.
Clooney’s visual space is made up of both digital and film-based sources, the latter more than the former it would appear. AVC encoding pumps out a grain structure of little impact, if plenty of texture. Monuments’ medium shots and close-ups are swabbed in crispness, with consistent levels of fidelity breaking away from the often darkened cinematography.
From those low-light interiors and nighttime scenarios bud stunning black levels of dense quality. Monuments does not let go. Image depth is persistent for the film’s run time and a sharp test for any display in regards to its ability to hold up in darkness.
Notably, Clooney held the feature back from awards season, pushing it from December to February to finish visual effect shots. Often, notable green screen sequences carry a softened look, as if they’re warped by the source via compression or noise. The effect can be jarringly distracting, if more akin to first act situations than later ones.
This has no effect on other sequences. Amongst the trees as Goodman and Jean Dujardin stop their journey for a smoke break, definition is spectacular – no green screen needs noted. Trees are packed into the frame with resolution allowing leaves to be defined as the lens steps back.
Post production alterations fit in an overcast of sepia, adding a classy age to the proceedings. Any changes to flesh tones or other hues are minimally invasive. Colors are often vivid with few changes to the overall palette. It’s a videophile pleaser for sure.
War often occurs in Monuments’ background. Scenes of bombings and planes are off camera, held in the surrounds and LFE to establish them as a presence. A few central pieces of gunfire, particularly one across an open air plaza, are impressive in their mixing. Echoes reverb from the concrete buildings with each shot, and bullet pings spread between stereos.
Scoring is beautiful as it pours from the fronts with bleed to the surrounds, mixed in for subtly with lower key piano cues in dramatic flourishes. Overall though, this is an unusually restrained WWII venture with regards to its sonic landscape. It’s fine, even unique in this sense, but lacking the bombastic touch often captured by the genre in narrative terms.
Two deleted scenes stick out if only because they would have fit inside of the jumpy storytelling with no additional weight. In Their Own Words interviews surviving members of the group, mixed in with words from the cast and crew. It’s fine work even if the true story is choppily told.
George Clooney’s Mission is promotional work, nothing more, followed by a look into the cast, Marshalling the Troops. A Woman Amongst Monuments Men looks at the efforts of Rose Valland who Cate Blanchett’s character is based upon. All together, these featurettes run a total of 30-minutes.
Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.