By Mark Saldana
Rating: 2.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
Based on the book The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert M. Edsel, George Clooney’s latest directorial effort hardly feels like an effort, and not necessarily in a good way. The light breezy approach to this, otherwise facinating, story lacks the necessary urgency and weight one would expect from a film about men so passionate about art that they would risk their lives to preserve that heritage. Clooney does deliver a film that does entertain because of the natural charm of the cast members, but fails to fully develop a strong story and never completely reveals who the real people behind this heartfelt mission were.
During World War II, the Nazis stole or destroyed valuable and historical works of art. A special military unit comprised of curators and art experts are sent on a mission to recover priceless paintings and sculptures before they fall into the wrong hands or are completely eliminated from existence. This squad of unlikely heroes faced the hazards and atrocities of war to return these masterpieces to their rightful owners and preserve them for posterity.
Clooney, who not only stars in the film and directs, wrote the script with Grant Heslov. This pairing of talents promises the tribute that these brave art connoisseurs deserve, but doesn’t quite deliver it. The true events which inspire this movie sound exciting and compelling, but Clooney and Heslov handle the material so matter-of-factly that the film lacks the necessary gravity that a story like this requires. Their light and charming comedic approach does deliver chuckles and the cast perform just as charmingly. Even though the film takes place during one of the worst wars in human history, the material comes across more like a situational comedy than a serious glimpse into the real stakes involved. The movie does manage to become a bit more thrilling and tense as it reaches its climax, but even in this sequence, it treats some of the scenarios like lighthearted fodder.
The cast includes talented actors Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, and Cate Blanchett, but their characters are portrayed and developed in such broad strokes that they are not all that interesting. For these people to risk life and limb for this higher cause, one would expect a fuller and more detailed portrayal. The audience never really gets to connect with the characters and as a result, rarely fears for their loss. The actors don’t even seem to get a chance to fully realize these characters, and therefore, don’t provide them with much depth.
So instead of a mission that requires tremendous courage and heart, Clooney and Heslov make this crusade to rescue artistic masterpieces feel more like a pet project. The film has its entertaining and lovable moments, but comes across as a half-assed telling of a story that deserves as much love and passion that the real Monuments Men obviously had. Even though I have not read the book on which this film is based, I am guessing that the printed version offers a more enthralling version of this story than the big screen adaptation does.