The Monuments Men – film review

One world war will get you two. We have barely commenced centenary commemoration of the 1914-18 affair before George Clooney arrives with a film about the 1939-45 one. Poor timing? Or jumping on a generic mood for global cataclysm?

In The Monuments Menwe seem to be back in the era of The Great Escape, though with little of that film’s cornball panache. Clooney, producing, directing and starring, heads the creaky movie mission, based on truth, about rescuing great works of art from the Nazis as they retreat across Europe. The essential components are gathered. A hummable march tune. A US-European star cast: Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, Jean Dujardin, Hugh Downton Abbey Bonneville. And the sort of plot where the villains are always a little more stupid than the heroes. Otherwise the heroes, carrying their own baggage of loveable handicap (in this case too old and with no fighting experience), will never catch up.

The dialogue is as you expect. Masterpieces of culture are at stake from Michelangelo to Vermeer to Picasso. “Blah blah, very foundations of modern society . . . ” The script’s favourite FAQ: “Is a work of art worth a man’s life?” Not this work of art. By the end the Germans are on the run; every salt, copper and coal mine in Europe houses the contents, or equivalent, of the Louvre or Rijksmuseum; and a film that began with airy, Copland-ish trumpet calls – hope? wistful longing? – is trampling us with the banality of triumph on an Elmer Bernstein scale. Clooney the star schmoozes through on a gallon of charm and a pint of invention. He has said he might give up acting for directing. I think he already has.

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