Take George Clooney and Matt Damon. Add Cate Blanchett with a nice new statuette. Mix in a score from the Oscar nominated Alexandre Desplat (Philomena, Argo). Sprinkle on a bit more George Clooney as writer. And just a dash more of George Clooney as director. With this much Clooney – what could go wrong? Apparently, a lot.
Luckily for the film which opened nationally last Thursday to tepid applause, Louise Frogley’s (Iron Man, Casino Royale, Unbroken) costume design was up to the task of telling a WWII story. The film looks beautiful. Not only this, the film looks accurate.
Creating costumes for military films is always a tricky task. If the designer gets it wrong, not even award-winners are safe. Combine that with creating costumes for a period film where an inaccurate costume sticks out like a gladiator with a wristwatch and the costume designer has their work cut out for them.
Multiple scenes in this film involved hundreds of extras (this is a war movie after all), but Louise Frogley was also tasked with creating costumes for five different armies – American, German, British, French and Belgian. Rather than creating a mass of “goody,” uniforms and “baddy,” uniforms, it is easy to see the different nationalities. It’s a subtle reminder that it wasn’t just the Americans and the English who fought in WWII.
Outside of the military costumes, Frogley takes the traditional war era road for her costumes. George Clooney’s character Stokes is a 40s intellectual, glasses and sharp suit. Matt Damon’s Granger, an artier figure wears period overalls before dressing up for social events and John Goodman’s Garfield, a sculptor, is first seen in a sculpting smock and cap, covered in mud and water. The design for Cate Blanchett’s French art historian, Claire Simone, does seem bland however. Muted colours and plain cuts, it’s unexciting on the screen. However Louise Frogley probably argues that this was a deliberate move, given Claire’s bookish and prickly nature.
While the civilian costumes appear true to the era – they do feel slightly uninspired, they are just there as support to the actors and the stories. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, most films outside of Sex and the City are more interested in story than costume – and understandably. However in a film that does lack in certain areas, it couldn’t have hurt to have given the costume design slightly more prominence and the designer more freedom to really create.
While the rest of the movie may be lacking, it would still be unfair to deem Frogley’s designs the same way. As accurate and emotive pieces, they work to give The Monuments Men a sense of integrity and beauty it would have otherwise missed.
The Monuments Men is playing in most cinemas.