Oh, George Clooney.
Do you think your benevolent smiles and long diatribes about the meaning of good intentions are going to make audiences forget that you have a story to tell in the two-plus hours of your film?
This is the case with Clooney’s latest film in the director’s chair, “The Monuments Men,” a film that is like Clooney’s personality: capable of witty jokes every now and again, but has the ultimate desire to be taken seriously.
In the film, Clooney plays Frank Stokes, an art historian and conservator at the Fogg Museum at Harvard. He is on a mission to recover the world’s most essential art pieces stolen by the Nazis and burned as the tide of World War II began to turn.
Stokes sounds the alarm and gathers a group of eccentric intellects and artists to assist him on the mission. Matt Damon plays James Granger, a museum expert who speaks imperfect French, and when given the chance, other characters in the film are not afraid to convey their sentiments on his harsh sounding and inadequate speech.
Rounding out the star-studded cast are Bill Murray, who plays Richard Campbell, but really just seems to play himself, which is always welcomed; John Goodman, who plays sculptor Walter Garfield; Bob Balaban, who plays Preston Savitz, a cantankerous art expert; Jean Dujardin, who plays art student Jean Claude Clermont and Cate Blanchet, as Claire Simone, a French woman who assists this band of outsiders toward their evitable discoveries.
Clooney and co-writer Grant Heslov break off pieces of their characters, and what we are left with are the crumbs – composites of men that probably had dynamic nuances because of their professions, but instead are merely sketched out, and never fully developed.
They leave it up to viewers to piece them back together into a cohesive whole, but never establish a proper tempo to the film, leaving the audience vexed and unconcerned when danger lurks from the SS, the paramilitary unit of the Nazi Party and Adolf Hitler.
What we get is light entertainment behind the milieu of bombs and blood. Enjoying the actors on the screen transcend the mediocrity that was written for them is not enough to forget its flaws. Perhaps the joy the audience gets from watching all this talent on the screen that hearkens back to films like “The Dirty Dozen” and “The Great Escape” was what Clooney was going for.
I suppose we can forgive Clooney this time. After all, having directed provocative films such as “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” “Good Night and Good Luck” and “The Ides of March,” he is entitled to a couple of duds.
Perhaps Clooney should have prayed a little harder in between takes filmed in some of Europe’s most beautiful cathedrals that his film about men on a vital mission for preserving modern culture would have been a little more fascinating and light on the didactic speeches about how important he is.