“The Monuments Men” recalls the postwar era of cornball Hollywood war films with such exactitude that it might as well have been made in 1951. This is a dated relic from George Clooney that strips a compelling premise of its dramatic heft by undercutting its seriousness at most turns.
Clooney, who directs and co-writes, stars as Frank Stokes, a lieutenant charged with assembling a team that will travel to Europe in 1944 with the intent of saving the continent’s art from the Nazis.
His band of brothers includes characters played by Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Bob Balaban and other notables. Cate Blanchett pops up to help, too, as a French woman named Claire Simone, but she’s mostly relegated to the sidelines.
It’s hard to imagine that a film with such a prolific cast could arrive so stillborn, but Clooney’s direction and screenplay are significant letdowns.
The old-fashioned war movie approach results in an unstructured narrative, self-consciously one-dimensional acting and an overarching style that sanitizes the experience in favor of a vaguely adventuresome spirit as Frank and his men crisscross the continent in search of masterpieces such as the Ghent Altarpiece.
The story demands one of two approaches: kitschy and over-the-top or realistic. At the very least, it needs some sense of the magnitude of this mission. In true regressive form, Clooney instead opts for milquetoast and mundane.