Starring: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett
Directed by: George Clooney (“The Ides of March”)
Written by: George Clooney (“The Ides of March”) and Grant Heslov (“The Ides of March”)
Historically speaking, “Monuments Men,” a film about a platoon of art appreciators who put their lives on the line to rescue priceless works of art from the Nazis during World War II, is a fascinating story and one that everyone should definitely be aware of. Cinematically speaking, however, director George Clooney’s latest isn’t the film they should trust to make it a lasting experience. As much as it would like to be considered more of a heist movie than an actual war movie, “Monuments Men” comes up extremely short on both fronts.
Sent on a mission by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt to reclaim thousands of famous artworks stolen by the Germans across Europe, art historian Frank Stokes (Clooney) puts together his ragtag team of curators and museum directors to save what they can before Hitler puts it in his own museum or burns it. The team includes art dealer Jean Claude Clermont (Jean Dujardin) and sculptor Walter Garfield (John Goodman). Other actors joining the bumpy ride are Billy Murray, Hugh Bonneville, Dimitri Leonidas and Bob Balaban. Somewhere along the way, Matt Damon and Cate Blanchett are used sparingly, although their story is probably the most compelling part of the entire narrative. Simply put: there are just not enough pages in the script to make them fully-realized characters. There isn’t even enough content for the men on the frontlines themselves, who basically mill around until it’s time for them to uncover the next trove of art.
Despite the impressive cast, Clooney’s cheeky “Ocean’s 11”-style approach to the film wasn’t in the best interest of the narrative in the least bit. The tone is playful throughout, which takes away from the seriousness of the subject at hand. Even when Clooney and co-writer Grant Heslov want to break away from the silliness, they fail to give the men any motivation so the characters can pull us in emotionally. Whether it’s during a scene where the men find a burnt frame belonging to a painting of Pablo Picasso, thus confirming the importance of their mission, or a scene where Murray breaks down because he misses his family, none of it rings true.
So far in his directorial career, Clooney has done some impressive work when the subject feels mature. Films like “The Ideas of March” and especially “Good Night, and Good Luck” are proof of that. But here, Clooney attempts to mix and match what he did with those films and what he did with his more lighthearted football-themed comedy “Leatherheads.” The outcome is a mess and one that, we’re sure, Clooney probably won’t be making during his next project.