I root for George Clooney. He has a lot going for him; he’s good looking, has a villa in Italy and is good friends with Sandra Bullock. That’s a lot for anyone, but that’s not why I root for him. I’m on his side because even though he’s a superstar he takes chances.
As an actor he put nipples on Batman, starred in a remake of an obscure Russian sci fi film, played a fox in a Wes Anderson movie and has played the lead in a movie about paranormal goats.
As a director he’s just as edgy. He’s stood behind the camera for a black and white look at Edward R. Murrow’s battle with Senator Joseph McCarthy, an old school football movie set in 1925 and an exposé of backroom politics.
He’s an a-lister who takes chances, and I applaud that which makes me sad to report I didn’t find as much to applaud in his most recent film as actor and director “The Monuments Men.”
Based on the book “The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History” by Robert M. Edsel, the movie stars Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban and Hugh Bonneville as a motley crew of art historians, engineers and museum directors recruited to locate and rescue priceless art works stolen by the Nazis. When two members of their team are killed they are no longer observers but active participants in the war.
Helping in the mission to return the plundered cultural artifacts is Rose Valland (Cate Blanchett), a French art historian and member of the French Resistance who not only aids the Allied art platoon but also tries to work her Parisian charms on Damon’s character.
“The Monuments Men” is a wartime comedy. Think “Hogan’s Heroes” by way of Leonardo Da Vinci and you’ll get the idea. It has some mild laughs (the biggest laugh, for Canadians anyway, comes from the Parisians who blame Matt Damon’s terrible French on having spent too much time in Montreal) but also a great deal of reverence for the art and the work of the real-life Monuments Men. ”People can come back but if you destroy their achievements, their history,” says George L. Stout (Clooney), “they can’t come back from that. That’s why Monuments Men was created.”
The reverential tone is reinforced by old school pacing that focuses on the character and art over action and a rousing soundtrack that sounds air-lifted in from a classic wartime era movie. The cast is uniformly fine and Bill Murray shows, once again in a brief scene in a shower (NO SPOILERS HERE), how his understated style can move an audience.
No problems there, but co-writers Clooney and longtime collaborator Grant Heslov appear to have taken a dose of sentimentality pills before putting pen to paper. What might have been an edgy, exciting look at an underreported slice of World War II history is reduced to an elegantly directed but somewhat dull film.
“The Monuments Men” is an earnestly told story but the lack of any real energy or surprises undermines its effectiveness.