There’s something almost refreshingly old-fashioned about “The Monuments Men,” one of those Very Important Pictures that Hollywood used to produce with such abundance in its heyday. It’s one of those World War II pictures in which a motley group of strangers is recruited by the United States Army to carry out a mission behind enemy lines. Dubbed the Monuments Men, this group of art experts was assigned the task of rescuing some of the world’s greatest art masterpieces from the grasping hands of the Nazis who were busily absconding with the works, presumably with the intention of displaying them in a museum of their own after the war.
Lt. Frank Stokes, who spearheaded the mission, is portrayed by George Clooney, while the men he recruits are played by Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bib Balaban, Dimitri Leonidas and Hugh Bonneville (“Downton Abbey”). Cate Blanchett co-stars as a curator who is also a Resistance fighter working for the French Underground, and who is initially suspicious of the Monuments Men’s motives for rounding up the treasures.
The movie is interesting enough as an unusual slice of history, I suppose, but the screenplay by Clooney and Grant Heslov, based on the book by Robert M. Edsel, never finds a way to make this true life tale come alive as drama. The characters are dull and under-developed, and, as a consequence, we find ourselves strangely uninterested in their back stories and unmoved by their fates. There is also way too much emphasis placed on the comical and the sentimental, and the movie comes replete with a gratingly frivolous score that seems woefully inappropriate to the subject at hand.
Despite the all-star cast, the movie is weighed down by over-earnest acting, with Murray and Balaban seemingly on hand mainly for the comic relief they provide.
Clooney has directed the film with hollow competence, and there’s some discussion about whether or not lives should be risked for the sake of inanimate objects, no matter how valuable, but it’s hard to make anything particularly memorable out of a story where the artwork has more personality than the players.
4 out of 10 stars