Given the stature and prominence of George Clooney as a filmmaker, and the likes of Bill Murray, John Goodman, Matt Damon and Cate Blanchett as actors, you couldn’t be blamed for expecting something rather special from the former’s latest directorial endeavour The Monuments Men, not to mention the quite absorbing cinematic territory being broached. It’s therefore something of a disappointment that instead we’re being treated to a tedious, overtly conventional piece of cinema.
Set amidst the Second World War, Clooney is Frank Stokes, who is left to assemble a group of art collectors and historians to proceed into the war-zone, and reclaim several pieces of valuable, significant art that the Nazis have taken. To ensure the very best men – and those able to identify the art as being genuine – Stokes is left to persuade an ageing, fragile collective of men to aid his cause, such as Donald Jeffries (Hugh Bonneville), Jean Claude Clermont (Jean Dujardin), James Granger (Damon), Walter Garfield (Goodman), Richard Campbell (Murray) and Preston Savitz (Bob Balaban), tasked with collecting the art from behind enemy lines. Though physically not quite up to task, what this group lacks in stamina and strength, they gain in intellect and tactical nous, as they embark on a mission to reclaim some of the world’s most significant cultural artefacts.
Though the story – which is based on real events – is captivating and somewhat incredible, Clooney sadly seems preoccupied with blowing the trumpets of the saviours, and men who risked their lives for the cause. Not that it’s a bad thing to do so, but by taking this route Clooney compromises the narrative, as it detracts from the story at hand. The film is frustratingly patriotic in that regard. Meanwhile, as expected with this all-star cast, the performances are all more than efficient, while the likes of Murray and Goodman provide the film with that comic touch it so desires.
However, and though certainly amusing on occasion, The Monuments Men simply isn’t intellectually stimulating enough for Clooney’s standards, as a piece that should rouse debate about life versus art, and explore what possessed these men to risk their safety in the name of culture. Sadly we’re left wanting on that front, and instead are subjected to a somewhat inconsequential, forgettable production.