"See, I’m not just a pretty face!” George Clooney says in The Monuments Men. Because he’s George Clooney, he then smiles charmingly, and because he’s George Clooney, you think, “That’s right! You aren’t just a pretty face!” Because George Clooney! Still, it’s sometimes easy to forget that Clooney—in addition to being a pretty face, in addition to having a charming smile—is also a producer and a director. The Monuments Men is the fifth feature he’s directed, and it also might be the worst.
Clooney is reliably fantastic as an actor and slightly less so as a director. He killed it with 2002’s adaptation of Chuck Barris’s insane memoir Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, and 2005’s Edward R. Murrow film Good Night, and Good Luck—but his screwball comedy Leatherheads and his political drama The Ides of March both tumbled down the memory hole. The Monuments Men isn’t terrible, but it steadfastly refuses to live up to its promise. Based on a true story, it’s set in the twilight of World War II and follows a group of men trying to find and recover artworks that Hitler has stolen. Clooney heads things up, and he’s backed up by a bunch of other guys you like: Bill Murray! John Goodman! Matt Damon! Jean Dujardin! Bob Balaban! That guy from Downton Abbey!
It would be unfair to expect The Monuments Men to feel like Ocean’s WWII, but what it does feel like is… not much of anything. A plinking score by Alexandre Desplat is the one constant as the script veers from comedy to sentimentality—and frustratingly, the cast is split up as soon as they’re introduced. Off on their own, Murray and Balaban have some first-rate moments, and Cate Blanchett—the one woman at this sausage party—both accomplishes the most and seems to be having the most fun. But no one else gets enough screen time to do much of anything. Despite Clooney’s best intentions, the whole thing is halfway down the memory hole before it’s even finished.