George Clooney’s ‘Monuments Men’ Finds Its Art, But Can’t Find Its Voice

There is a good movie somewhere within The Monuments Men and it’s despite an impressive cast and a little-known true story from World War II that that movie never comes to fruition. Instead, the audience is left with an odd little film that feels destined to bore middle schoolers as a substitute teacher files her nails behind a metal desk.

The film’s unfamiliar tale is of a group of art experts who, as the War raged on, snuck into Germany to extract thousands of pieces of stolen art. Its ensemble cast includes George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Hugh Bonneville, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban and Cate Blanchett. Figuring out how the film does not add up to the sum of its parts perhaps creates more suspense and tension than can be found in the entire film.

Before we can get to the cross-European treasure hunt, Clooney’s Frank Stokes must convince President Franklin Delano Roosevelt of the worthiness of this mission. So convinced, FDR asks Stokes to assemble a team which comes to include an art restorer (Damon), a sculptor (Goodman), a disgraced museum director (Bonneville), the artist from The Artist (Dujardin) and the bickering odd couple of Murray and Balaban. And even still we cannot get to the action, as Clooney (who not only stars, but also directed and co-wrote the film) has provided himself with more than a few speeches—ranging from patriotic to philosophical—to deliver to the troops.

Then finally we are off. But even with a handful of exotic European backdrops and some of the most famous art known to man as props, The Monuments Men fails to create any real excitement.

The team of seven is quickly separated into groups, each looking for stolen art. With very little communication and almost no directorial cohesion, the movie devolves into nothing more than a series of vignettes. And while each character is based on a real-life person, none gets any real character development. In fact, the only person in the cast who seems to be doing any acting at all is Cate Blanchett, playing the surly Claire Simone, an art curator engaged in a dangerous war game.

Perhaps the film’s biggest failing is a complete tonal disconnect. In one moment, it feels like a heist flick and in another, it’s delivering a sermon about the very real sacrifices of war. The two are hard to swallow and The Monuments Men ends up going down less like a meal and more like a lesson, served cold.