George Clooney's "Monuments Men" provides an experience similar to reading from a World War II history book: educational, yet devoid of emotion.
Based on a true but widely unknown story, the film is centered on a group of civilian men and one woman who worked together for the Allied Powers in order to preserve works of art and architecture during WWII. If not for them risking their lives on the front lines of the conflict, the world's artistic masterpieces, such as the Bruges Madonna and The Burghers of Calais, would have been destroyed at the hands of the Nazis.
"Monuments Men" boasts a star-studded, A-list cast which includes Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon, John Goodman, Bill Murray, and Bob Balaban while Clooney directed and stars in the WWII tale. "Downtown Abbey" actor Hugh Bonneville and Jean Dujardin of "The Artist" also play major roles in the film.
However, Clooney and his co-stars failed to grasp an emotional connection to their characters, and therefore mishandled the delivery of the story. Additionally, very little background was provided on the key players, who had scattered screen time and very little interaction with one another in the film. Much of the story relies on the group's camaraderie, yet the audience never gets to see if there is any between them at all. Therefore, viewers are left dispassionate with a touch of confusion by the end of the unwieldy account of the unexpected war heroes.
Moreover, some scenes in "Monuments Men" felt saccharine and manipulative, including when an a cappella version of "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" plays at war camp for dying soldiers on Christmas Day. Another clear example of Clooney's attempt to draw emotion occurred when his character confronts a Nazi soldier, defending Jews and welcoming the war's end. While somewhat poignant, the scenes came off as ill-timed and out of place.
Despite the detached delivery of the plot, "Monuments Men" did not arrive without a few laughs. Bill Murray's comedic prowess was enough to light up the screen alongside Bob Balaban in their roles as reluctant friends in the film. Damon also drew smiles when his character accidentally encounters an undetonated land mine while the others attempt to save him.
"Men" also shed light on the atrocities of the Holocaust and the magnitude of Adolf Hitler's vicious ideology. The leader of the Third Reich had intended to build one massive museum which would store all the works of art his soldiers had stolen along their short-lived but victorious march across Europe- pieces that the Monuments Men salvaged, and works that are still being restored to rightful owners even today.
Clooney's leading role of as Frank Stokes, an art historian, seemed to reflect his real-life personality. The actor has made no secret of his desire to direct rather than be in front of the camera, and he continues to strive in establishing himself as a skilled filmmaker.
"I'm more than just a pretty face," Stokes says during the film, reflecting sentiments Clooney likely shares as a new director.
"Monuments Men" is in theaters nationwide now, rated PG-13. Watch the trailer here.