It’s not that George Clooney’s directorial effort, Monuments Men, is bad, it’s just that it’s so uninspired. Based on the true story of a group of Art History professors, architects, and artists tasked with finding and preserving art during World War II, Clooney casts a bunch of familiar faces and slaps on a soundtrack straight from a Classic Hollywood-era war film (whistles included) in the hopes that with enough charm, the film will be enjoyable. If only someone had told Clooney that the movie also needed the ingredients usually associated with good film. Instead, Clooney coasts through the story without building much of anything — plot, suspense, character development — which is just a long, painful road to mediocrity.
What’s unfortunate is that the story is supremely interesting. And one that does seem ripe for a silver screen adaptation. After all it’s about an elder museum director, George L. Stout (George Clooney), who convinces President Franklin Roosevelt that due to the war’s destruction throughout Europe, preservation of the world’s historical art should be a top priority. Soon, he’s tasked with putting together a team of other like-minded art historians and artists to help him with the job. A band of outsiders who are either too old or have a health issue that barred them from the service, they are not only happy to help Stout but are just as excited to finally become a part of the war against Hitler. If the idea of a bunch of outcast, artsy types tasked with a mission of historical significance, yet never given the credit they may have deserved, doesn’t scream “Hollywood film,” what does?
So how does Clooney falter so poorly? Instead of creating a war film full of suspense and a superb cast of crazy characters — Matt Damon, John Goodman, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, Jean Dujardin, Hughe Bonneville, and a sultry, French-accented Cate Blacnchett — Clooney wants to go for something more old school that forgoes the atmosphere of doom that one usually associates with a war film, and instead depicts a bunch of men who are bound for some sort of subdued greatness. While it seems as if Clooney is more interested on the characters, he does little to actually humanize them aside from a scene where Bill Murray’s character Sgt. Richard Campbell receives a record from his family, played over the camp’s loudspeaker, of them singing Christmas carols. It also doesn’t help that the group is paired off to cover more ground and search for the art that they’ve realized has mostly been stolen by Hitler for his own personal museum. By constantly cutting from one pair and location to another, all sense of time is lost and each story is never fully developed enough to really care about the characters or their plight. This is especially true of Matt Damon’s James Rorimer who sets off for Paris and tracks down Rose Valland (Blanchett), a member of the French Resistance and art historian who may know about where the Nazi’s are hiding the art.
If his characters are thin, neither does he do anything to create any real sense of suspense, despite being a war film. Although the group doesn’t come ashore in Europe until almost the bitter end, the fighting continues. Add to that a half-baked subplot about how Russia has a similar task force hellbent on finding all the art they can but instead of restoring it to its rightful owners as the Monuments Men intend to do, they want to bring it home for personal gain. Unfortunately, this plot thread is barely hinted at early on, only to be brought back in the end for an all too late attempt to create friction.
Clooney, who also co-wrote the script, is just never able to synthesize all of his ideas into a coherent or enjoyable story. Relying too much on the talents of his admittedly great cast, the picture has just too many fundamental problems to ever take off. While still enjoyable in parts and, again, mostly due to its on-screen talent, the film never truly nosedives, instead it just slowly sputters along unable to fully lift itself up. And sometimes pure mediocrity is less amusing than an outright train wreck.
Rating: 3 out of 5