Just as the motley crew of art historians, curators, restorers and archivists—most of ages and girths that seem misplaced on the battlefield—fights to preserve the veritable treasure-troves of cultural artifacts looted by Nazis in George Clooney’s The Monuments Men, the writer-director-star of the film seems bent on preserving a certain kind of classical, even old-fashioned American movie that Hollywood just doesn’t make anymore. After vigorously investing vivid life into the best of his five retro-fun films, Good Night, and Good Luck and The Ides of March, Clooney’s latest once again looks back towards a rich tradition of filmmaking that springs its morally astute ideas from history, politics and civic ideals, its noble intentions worn proudly on its sleeve.
The—very loosely—based-on-a-true-story wartime drama, co-written by Clooney with his producing partner Grant Heslov, draws on the WWII thriller, caper comedy, straight-faced procedural, sentimentally uplifting melodrama and buddy film, and includes just enough why-we-fight speeches to keep the patriotism practical (“They tell us no one cares about art, but they’re wrong. It’s the exact reason that we’re fighting, for a culture, for a way of life. If you destroy their achievements, their history, then it’s as if they never existed.”) The director seems unsure whether he’s trying to make a stylish wartime drama or a jaunty, jocular lark—Ocean’s Seven, WWII edition?—and what he ends up with tries to be funny, thoughtful, touching and true all at the same time but hones a little too closely to a dutiful, dry art-appreciation seminar.