George Clooney's latest directorial venture revolves around a team of middle-aged art experts sent to Europe in the last years of the Second World War to attempt to rescue priceless artworks from Nazi hands.
So far so good, the film has possibilities. It could have combined the best of band-of-brothers war dramas with some scintillating heist moments. Unfortunately, it does neither. And the moments it does have will give you a sense of déjà vu. Even the film's central question of whether a work of art is worth a human life is never answered, or asked in the right manner.
As Liam Lacey of The Globe and Mail writes, "The Monuments Men would have to be a lot more, or a lot less, reverent to have the impact Clooney intended. Instead of one major heist, we have a series of encounters, big and little discoveries, and a lot of familiar war-movie moments. There's some strained comic play... and a long sequence that's the equivalent of the old letter from home."
Not that it doesn't have its moments. Only, those moments are frittered away every single time. As Andrew O'Hehir of Salon.com writes, "The Monuments Men is an especially frustrating experience because you can see traces, here and there, of the more serious and resonant film about second chances and middle-aged melancholy that Clooney may once have believed he was making."
He goes on to write that the film fails to give you the right perspective into the issue at its heart. "A strikingly large percentage of this movie is neither interesting as history nor entertaining as drama. You get the feeling that Clooney is sticking too closely to the facts to have any fun, but is fundamentally uninterested in the story the facts have to tell."
The film stars Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban, Hugh Bonneville, and Cate Blanchett. With a cast like that, we did expect some fireworks - only if the treatment would have been different.
"He (Clooney) puts together the gang that includes five Americans, a Brit (Bonneville) and a Frenchman (Dujardin); but before we can get any sense of them as a group, he breaks them into teams of two and sends them on separate, mostly inconsequential and uninteresting missions for the first half of the film," writes Tom Long of The Detroit News.
"Clooney's obviously going for old-school charm and camaraderie here, but the first half of the film is so scattered, and the characters are so lacking in specifics, that a sense of group bravado never feels earned."
Clooney's direction, he's also written the script with Grant Heslov, has been slammed by the critics. "In the end, the lofty speeches about art and the familiar war scenes simply don't deliver insight or emotional punch. While Clooney's script raises the serious question of whether any work of art is worth a human life, The Monuments Men does nothing dramatically to make the question compelling," writes Lacey.