Monuments Men - Dimitri Leonidas, John Goodman, George Clooney, Matt Damon and Bob Balaban

A raffish George Clooney once again puts together a crack team to carry out a daredevil escapade. Matt Damon’s one of the gang, too. But this isn’t the latest Ocean’s Eleven and Clooney’s heroes aren’t attempting to pull off a big heist but to thwart one.

The heist in question is Hitler’s attempted theft of some of Europe’s greatest art treasures during World War Two and Clooney’s fact-based adventure The Monuments Men – he’s director, co-writer and co-producer, as well as star – salutes the unlikely platoon of experts tasked with saving them.

It’s a genuinely fascinating story but Clooney’s telling of it is surprisingly flat and dull. He seems uncertain of the right tone to take, aiming here for a would-be comic guys-on-a-mission jauntiness – John Goodman’s sculptor wriggling through an assault course, say  – and there for race-against-time suspense as the misfit band of seven museum curators, artists and historians struggles to rescue the continent’s imperilled masterpieces.

THE MONUMENTS MEN - Matt Damon and Cate Blanchett

But the comedy isn’t that funny (the running gag about Damon’s terrible French is, er, terrible) and sits uneasily with the film’s more serious moments, as when the men come upon barrels of gold teeth taken from concentration camp inmates shortly after Damon’s stepping on a non-exploding landmine is played for laughs. And the drama isn’t that dramatic, despite Clooney’s efforts to give it extra weight by framing the question: Is a work of art worth dying for?

The Monuments Men does feature its share of international treasures – Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett and Jean Dujardin are here as well as Jan van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece and Michelangelo’s Bruges Madonna – but were there a future cataclysm then I don’t see anyone risking life and limb to save this particular cultural artefact from the flames.

starstrip2

Certificate 12A. Runtime 118 mins. Director George Clooney.

[swf]http://uk.player.filmtrailer.com/v3.1/&mid=13471&channel_user_id=441100180-1&repeat=1&volume=0[/swf]

To activate the sound in the trailer: hold your cursor over the screen to reveal the control panel and click on the volume control in the bottom right-hand corner.