Movie review: Clooney’s “Monuments Men” is less than sum of its parts

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From the February 6, 2014 edition

George Clooney’s “The Monuments Men” looks pretty great on paper, like a World War II “Ocean’s Eleven,” but it’s unexpectedly unsatisfying.

It’s almost as if the film is so excited by the idea of itself that it never bothers to establish a rhythm, which makes the many bits and pieces that are enjoyable even more frustrating.

Like “Labor Day” a week ago, “Men” is also a movie that has an awards-season pedigree that missed the boat.

In the waning days of World War II, Frank Stokes (Clooney) convinces the President of the need to assemble a group to protect the great works of art that have been seized by the Nazis.

He unites a dream team of art historians, architects and more (Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Bill Balaban, Jean Dujardin, Hugh Bonneville). As Germany is in full retreat, their chief fear is that the Nazis will stash or destroy the great works of art of Western Civilization.

This sort of mediocrity is a disappointment coming from Clooney. The actor has had a pretty solid directorial career (particularly “Good Night, and Good Luck” and “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind”).

But the narrative can’t find consistent footing, hopping from scene to scene with a clunky disconnection. It also has a wildly inconsistent tone, hopping from lighthearted moments to heavy war drama with little grace.

The real shame is that there are great moments on both sides of that coin. Murray and Balaban have some solid comedic chemistry — as do “Ocean’s” alumni Clooney and Damon in their (too few) scenes together. Clooney has some great monologues about the very importance of art in a culture, and Bonneville has a moving scene all to himself (even if the audience wasn’t given much chance to connect with his character before it).

The boys-club atmosphere is thick, but there is one superb actress dropped into the mix (Cate Blanchett). And while I have serious problems with the storytelling, this will probably be a hit with an older crowd.

I’m expecting more from Clooney next time out, though.

Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures