There was a period - late October, early November - when bookmakers were terrified of George Clooney's The Monuments Men, and for good reason. The heavily financed historical-drama had a superb story to work from, it had a script from Clooney and Grant Heslov and a supporting cast that included Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Cate Blanchett, Jean Dujardin and Hugh Bonneville. It was the favorite to win Best Picture at the Oscars with very little value to be had.
George Clooney in 'The Monuments Men'
Clooney eventually pulled the plug on the movie's Oscar-bait release date, owing to concerns about the special effects, however, rumors from the production suggested the director was struggling with the movie's tone and the trailers certainly didn't give any clues as to whether this was a serious historical drama, a comedy, or something else.
Speaking afterwards to The Wrap, Clooney explained, "It's been a bit of a dance.We're trying to do the movie in the vein of war films, but you don't want it to sound like The Great Escape. Those movies that were done in the '50s and '60s, they all had their own sort of life. You don't want to do a replica; you have to do a new version."
"We're testing it - we put some laughs in there; that's important to me, but it's a serious subject matter," he says. "How much is too much? The tone is lighter, then they get in trouble. Gone With the Wind works in that way."
George Clooney [L] and Matt Damon [R] in 'The Monuments Men'
In case you're unfamiliar with the plot, The Monuments Men focuses on an unlikely platoon tasked with going into Germany to rescue artistic masterpieces from the Nazis during World War II. A mix of museum directors, curators and art historians attempt to get behind enemy lines -at the behest of FDR - in a bid to save mankind's greatest artistic achievements.
It's difficult to be unkind to anything involving George Clooney - in fact, it's near impossible - and there's little point kicking the guy when he's down on this one. The director has clearly endured numerous problems with this one, though all the signs (mainly his work on Ides of March and production on Argo) suggest he's going to become an Oscar winning director in the next 5 years or so.
So let's have a quick rundown of the reviews:
"Earnest and well-intentioned but ultimately inert, "The Monuments Men" talks a better game than it can deliver," said the Los Angeles Times.
"Because Mr. Clooney can't figure out what kind of story this is, he too often slips into pandering mode, including in his own performance, which is filled with too many smiles and speeches," wrote the New York Times.
Watch the Monuments Men trailer:
"Clooney's low-key directorial effort is not quite an Oscar-caliber movie, though it's got a great cast, a worthy theme and plenty of things to reward adult moviegoers," said the New York Post.
"The actors skew a little bit older than the historical Monuments Men, but their lived-in humanity forms a nice contrast to the inhumane megalomania that they're trying to reverse," wrote Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle.
The Monuments Men hit theaters on Valentines' Day. There's probably worse date ideas.