Many fault the film for being either a bit too boring, a bit too light, and a bit unbalanced
The World War II drama about an unlikely platoon consisting of seven art historians tasked with rescuing artistic masterpieces from Nazi thieves has a 31 percent “rotten” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Out of 112 reviews counted, so far, “The Monuments Men” was bombarded by 77.
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TheWrap‘s Alonso Duralde thought the film’s all-star cast — Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, John Goodman, Bob Balaban and Jean Dujardin — “nails the period flavor,” but Clooney and co-writer Grant Heslov‘s screenplay could have been constructed a bit better.
“The notion of architects, sculptors and academics sent to basic training and unleashed upon the theater of war promises to deliver both comedy and action, but Clooney never strikes the storytelling balance that the material deserves,” Duralde wrote in his review. “At times, the film drags, while at others, it rushes through essential character and story elements.”
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Miami Herald critic Rene Rodriguez gave the film with “a few good moments” two stars after boiling the 1-hour-and-52-minute movie down to boring.
“George Clooney takes a wild, stranger-than-fiction true story and turns it into a dull, prestigious slog,” Rodriguez wrote. “Although he seems to favor a classical, old-school approach to narrative, he’s not much for generating suspense and excitement, two things this movie badly needs.”
New York Times critic Manohla Dargis thinks the “sliver of a great World War II story” will be enjoyable to audiences that “don’t want to think too hard,” but given the real-life art-experts-turned-soldiers that the film is based on, that’s not necessarily a good thing.
“If there’s anyone who you expect to smarten up a joint, it’s Mr. Clooney. The brain trust behind the original Monuments Men was staggering and included individuals who helped run some of America’s greatest cultural institutions,” Dargis wrote. “At the very least you expect their fictional counterparts to exchange a little shoptalk and some thoughts on art, literature and the latest restoration techniques or maybe just gossip about Picasso’s latest mistress.”
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Clooney told TheWrap last year that he was struggling with the tone of the film, which has both comedic and dramatic elements. According to Los Angeles Times critic Kenneth Turan, the struggle that Clooney described as “a bit of a dance” is on full display in the final cut.
“Earnest and well-intentioned but ultimately inert, “The Monuments Men” talks a better game than it can deliver,” Turan wrote. “Inspired by true tales of World War II derring-do, it can’t decide what kind of a film it wants to be and so ends up failing across a fairly wide spectrum.”
Not everyone took issue with the war movie’s shortcomings, however. San Francisco Chronicle critic Mick LaSalle enjoyed the “happy yet serious” mood Clooney conveyed throughout the “mostly jolly adventure in which people get killed.”
“‘The Monuments Men’ is an old-fashioned World War II movie, of a kind Hollywood used to churn out 50 years ago, back when the war was still a fairly recent memory,” LaSalle wrote. “The movie has a certain gallantry and a spring in its step that’s retro, appealing and ever-so-slightly phony.”
Rolling Stone‘s Peter Travers was also among the minority of critics that found the “relatively bloodless” war epic to be an overall enjoyable — and even “addictive” — adventure behind enemy lines.
“The work of the Monuments Men is fresh territory for film, and Clooney builds the story with intriguing detail and scope,” Travers wrote. “What Clooney has crafted in ‘The Monuments Men’ is a movie about aspiration, about culture at risk, about things worth fighting for. I’d call that timely and well worth a salute.”