For starters, I couldn’t quite tell whether Clooney’s latest directorial effort – an amiable but somewhat forgettable WWII picture about a rag-tag group of art-loving guys tasked with recovering, and protecting, some of Europe’s most prized art from the Nazis – was meant to be a lighthearted romp or a serious drama. The jaunty score would seem to indicate the former; the proceedings, the latter.
Clooney stars as Frank Stokes, the noble American heading up the mission and leading an aging team of art historians/art lovers (Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Hugh Bonneville and Bob Balaban) into enemy territory in the hopes of tracking down thousands of pieces of stolen art. Then, for nearly two hours, the men… look for art.
Unfortunately, this kind of film demands camaraderie and emotion and interesting characters – these guys are, we’re told, risking their lives in the name of art. But nowhere in the film does that come across. There’s no sense of awe or wonder or passion behind anything any of the men do – at no point did I believe Goodman’s sculptor or Dujardin’s painter (?) or Murray’s architect were passionate about the life-threatening mission they’d undertaken. I didn’t believe that Damon or Balaban cared at all about the paintings and sculptures they were trying to find. And Clooney, meant to be the lynchpin, pitches his plans as though he were asking the fellas to track down the best golf course in Germany or a pair of shoes he’d misplaced.
Likewise, I knew nothing about any of the characters beyond their profession and a few random insights tossed out during conversation, making it hard to invest in them. The most moving – and perhaps only moving – moment comes fleetingly, as Murray listens to a recording from home. Otherwise? Meh.
And then there’s Cate Blanchett, the token dame in this caper. Icy, difficult and perpetually smoking, her Claire Simone is a confusing presence. Unlikable, yet we’re meant (I think?) to like her. The subplot involving her character and Damon’s married man feels awkward and forced, as though it was the result of a (bad) studio note.
In the end, the film is not offensive or bad, just clunky and boring. It’s not nearly as good or as rich as it could (and should) be, given the calibre of talent involved. File this one under “wait for DVD,” for sure.