If "The Monuments Men" feels a bit too much like a World War II reboot of "Ocean's Eleven" with the caper turned on its head to find our protagonists plotting the impossible, not to rip off a casino, but because they are burdened with the glorious purpose of foiling the Nazis, don't blame George Clooney. Say what you will about the second and third installments of the “Ocean’s” franchise, but that first reboot of the Rat Pack classic worked, and it worked well. So, it's pretty easy to understand how that same spirit found its way into the historical drama, starring, directed by, co-written by and produced by the charismatic star. Toss Matt Damon into the mix and the sensation becomes even more irresistible, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as viewers can learn for themselves when the movie hits theaters on Feb. 7.
“The Monuments Men” follows an unlikely platoon of WWII soldiers commissioned to locate and recover great works of art that had been stolen by Nazi forces and return them to their rightful owners. Based on the true story of what some have called the greatest treasure hunt in history, the film paints a very different image of war than the cinema usually affords us. The rag tag group of artists, art historians and architects, who all seem to share a second favorite pastime, drinking, are not the heroes we’re used to seeing. They are decidedly the second-stringers in the theater of war. And though their revenge doesn’t ring with the same manic glory of the titular ‘Basterds’ in Tarantino’s take on the popular subject, there is something poetic about a mission to preserve art and beauty in the face of so many atrocious acts.
Perhaps it is because of the profundity of the subject and the caliber of the case, not to mention the prestige of some of Clooney’s previous directorial efforts and the originally intended late December release date, that had so many people pegging the project as an Oscar contender from the word go. “The Monuments Men” is actually quite a different picture than the confident, heavy-handed drama in the veins of “Good Night, and Good Luck.” and “The Ides of March” that so many anticipated.
It’s too lighthearted, too harmlessly enjoyable to have that Oscar feel, and in that sense it is overwhelming, but, taken for what it is, it’s a fun romp that takes the best of “Ocean’s Eleven” and blends it with the charming patriotism that Captain America calls his trademark. It’s also hard to complain about watching the likes of Clooney, Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman and Jean Dujardin throw their all into the tale. Though Cate Blanchett gets disappointingly little to work with, we at least get a goodly dose of Hugh Bonneville made all the more amusing by the fact that he embodies a character quite unlike his all-business Earl of Grantham.
“The Monuments Men” may have missed the mark where Oscar is concerned, but it receives higher marks than have been the average in this slow time of the cinematic year.