This monumental tale of the men and women who went into Europe towards the end of World War II in a bid to rescue priceless artworks suffers somewhat from the scale of the story itself. But in the hands of the talented Clooney, it's an enjoybale tale nonetheless.
With a Tom Selleck-style 'tache firmly in place, Clooney gives a quietly restrained performance (he is also on producing, writing and directing dutues here) as Frank Stokes, who leads a platoon of architects, museum personnel and art experts on their mission to rescue artefacts, buildings and monuments from the Nazis – with the intent of returning the art to its original owners.
The first half-hour or so sees Clooney putting his team together – Damon comes along as his number two, and they're joined by Leonidas, Goodman, Murray, Dujardin, Bonneville and Balaban – a ragtag bunch of unfit, over-the-hill and out of shape "soldiers". But these are no Kelly's Heroes, or even a Dirty Dozen. There's very little action to be found – these are not hardened military types going into battle, as their bumbling attempts at basic training show.
The mission proper sees them split up to visit various places around Belgium, Paris and Germany to hunt for the mising artworks. So Murray and Balaban bicker and share a tense moment with a German soldier; Goodman and Dujardin come under fire from an enemy sniper; Bonneville shows British grit and determination looking for a piece close to his heart; and Damon goes it alone in trying to get information from suspicious French art curator Blanchett.
The biggest problem the film encounters is in constantly moving between these various plot strands. It looks great, and there is enough gentle humour and wartime drama to keep an audience engaged. But the story is simply too big to restrict to a two-hour film; we don't get to spend enough time with each of these interesting characters, and we don't get to really know them as much as we would like to.
It's very repectful to the true story of the real Monuments Men, but the film's brevity doesn't give the story as much room to breathe as it needs. It's solid, well-made and very entertaining, but Monuments Men would have worked that much better as an eight- or even 12-hour series on HBO or the like.
EXTRAS ★★½ The featurette In Their Own Words (12:12), in which surviving members of the real Monuments Men mission discuss their experiences; the featurette A Woman Amongst the Monuments Men (4:24), a look at the life of Rose Valland, the real woman upon which Blanchett's character of Claire Simone was based; the featurette George Clooney's Mission (5:10), in which producer/writer Heslov and other members of the cast discuss Clooney's directing style; the featurette Marshalling the Troops (7:54), a brief look at the actors who make up the main cast; two deleted scenes (2:04); and the theatrical trailer• AUDIO | The Monuments Men London press conference• AUDIO | Matt Damon on The Monuments Men story