First, I should say I don't automatically hate George Clooney and Matt Damon movies just because they are silly liberals. I happen to own From Dusk Till Dawn, Out of Sight, and all the Oceans movies (well, only because that whole set was $10). Matt Damon was good in True Grit, and he was at his acting best in Team America: World Police!
Seriously though, I generally like their work (I can say that because I haven't yet seen Elysium). Hey, with two toddlers and a baby I don't get to see too many movies at all, so it says something that I picked Monuments Men as the one to see on a rare Date Night.
Big mistake. It's not good. And no, not because of the message, which I'll get to later. It's criminal that they took a movie with such a great cast (Clooney, Damon, Cate Blanchett, John Goodman, Bill Murray, and Bob Balaban) and somehow failed to develop any of the characters, while giving them a flat, unfunny script. I suppose that's what you get when Clooney directs, writes, produces, and acts in the film, in which a group of over-the-hill professors are sent across enemy lines to find important works of art stolen by Nazis in World War II.
Clooney's failure to deliver a good film is not the worst part about Monuments Men. It's the self-important message he tries to push across, which is--art is more valuable than human life. The smug cloud still follows him around.
Now, it's one thing for the art scholars in the Monuments Men to sacrifice their lives for the Mona Lisa or other irreplaceable piece of art (and some of them do), but that's not what Clooney's message seems to be. The art is worth sacrificing others' lives too.
There is one scene where one of the Monuments Men approaches a commanding officer about finding a lost work of art. The officer chews him out and declares that he's not going to write letters home to the family of lost men because some architect wants to save "some belltower." The protagonist architect rolls his eyes and moves on to try to find some way around this unreasonable obstacle, and we're supposed to sympathize with his plight.
Except I don't. Art is important, but when it comes down to it, a canvas with some colors on it is not worth the life of people, whose death would also impact his family, friends, and so on.
I had an inkling something was wrong right away, during the opening scene where George Clooney's character describes the Monte Cassino bombing as sort of wanton destruction by Americans keen on blowing things up. I always thought of it as a sad, but necessary cost of war--if it were a key German fortification then it should have been destroyed. In my mind it was also atypical, but Clooney's character made it sound like it was routine.
Clooney would have no problem, I guess, sacrificing a few (or more) of our lives to save a historical structure, or painting, or sculpture. Interestingly, a similar theme is tackled in Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan, in which the question is asked "is it worth sacrificing multiple lives to save one life (ironically, Matt Damon's)?" That is a much better thing to ask, and something that Spielberg doesn't find as easy to answer as Clooney laying down lives so others can enjoy some treasures of Western Civilization.
Disturbingly, it fits into Clooney (and Damon's) progressive worldview, in which the individual not only takes a back seat to the collective, but they are easy to dispose of if the collective gain is substantial enough.