With so many World War II-set movies hitting theaters each year, it’s a minor miracle when one arrives telling a story that has largely gone untold. While it’s no secret that Hitler was a bit of an art connoisseur, ordering his armies to steal millions of masterpieces during their tear through Europe, few know the tale of the rag-tag bunch of Allied academics who donned fatigues to get it all back.
At one point, before having its release delayed until February because of post-production work, The Monuments Men was being mentioned alongside American Hustle and Gravity as an Oscar contender. Since no one had seen it yet I can only surmise it was because folks were just giving George Clooney (who produced, directed, co-wrote, and stars in the film) the benefit of the doubt.
Unfortunately, The Monuments Men (based on the non-fiction book by Robert Edsel) proves Clooney is not infallible. What should have been a riveting (and at times even harrowing) film comes off as little more than a jaunty field trip for some old guys pretending to be soldiers. It’s much more Stripes than The Longest Day; most of the drama, suspense, or the actual long-shot odds these men faced is inexplicably absent. And in the few instances when it does appear, it’s so jarring your neck might just snap.
Even the powerhouse cast, which includes Matt Damon, John Goodman, Bob Balaban, and Bill Murray, seem to be skating through the proceedings like they’re at a summer camp—not on the run from Nazis. Sure, the story itself is interesting, but how Clooney and his band of brothers can take it and turn it into something so uneven is startling and, frankly, disappointing.
Cate Blanchett, playing French curator Claire Simone, is the lone bright spot here, turning in a performance that actually looks like she cared.
Don’t cry for Clooney; he still has a better-than-average track record, and I imagine The Monuments Men will just be written off as a good idea poorly executed. Alas, though, that won’t help put the ten bucks back in your pocket.