Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5. USA/Germany, 2014. , , , , Screenplay by George Clooney, Grant Heslov, based on the book by Robert M. Edsel, Bret Witter. Cinematography by Phedon Papamichael. Produced by George Clooney, Grant Heslov. Music by Alexandre Desplat. Production Design by James D. Bissell. Costume Design by Louise Frogley. Film Editing by Stephen Mirrione.
Nazi Germany is destroying life in Europe and threatening to take over the world, and with America’s entry into the war, George Clooney wants to get involved. The preservation of human life is the highest priority, but Clooney sees that without the curating of human culture, life is merely survival. With that in mind he puts together a team of aging, decidedly un-athletic art experts and architects and barely makes soldiers of them before taking them to Europe. They arrive at destinations that the Germans have already retreated from and search for paintings that have been confiscated by the Fuhrer from private collections (a great deal of them from disenfranchised Jewish collectors) or the museums of occupied cities. What these men discover are huge troves of stolen treasures, hidden away like something out of an Arabian Nights tale, the project of which extends past the war and, although it’s not explicitly stated in the film, continues to this day. Clooney, Matt Damon, Jean Dujardin, Hugh Bonneville, Bob Balaban, John Goodman and Bill Murray bring fresh energy and charm to their roles, appealing enough to keep us in their pockets as they bounce through a randomly plotted adventure, but there’s a decidedly weird confusion about the tone this film means to take that prevents it from landing. At its heart is a moving and powerful tale of preserving human expression, most touchingly embodied by an underused Cate Blanchett as a museum employee who is crucial to the recovery of a great number of stolen goods, but the jokey recreation of World War II, complete with a perpetually high-stepping musical score, is somewhere on the level of Hogan’s Heroes. A brittle, delicate middle ground between gravity and levity is attempted but is not achieved, making the intended dramatic climax, when Clooney faces off with a captured S.S. bigwig and describes to him the banality of both victory and defeat, shallow in its overall effect. It’s not a memorable movie, but it’s not too hard to sit through either.