George Clooney’s Descent Into Mediocrity

02/07/2014 11:29 AM |

monuments men movie george clooney matt damon bill murray

The Monuments Men: I haven’t yet seen George Clooney’s The Monuments Men, but its reviews seem to indicate a tone hinted at in its appealing yet underwhelming trailers: a sort of reverent semi-caper, not as much fun as an Ocean’s movie nor as weighty as a more serious WWII drama. In short, just about the same kind of pleasant wan-ness that defined Clooney’s Leatherheads, a movie that felt like it could’ve been a screwball comedy or moving dramedy, but was neither in particular. I wonder if Clooney, as a filmmaker and as a Hollywood personality, has let some of his Mr. Hollywood class go to his head.

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Clooney’s first film as a director, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, appeared to be influenced both by the stylistic boldness of the Coen Brothers and the controlled deadpan of Steven Soderbergh, who were pretty much Clooney’s main collaborators at the time. (Mind came out at the tail end of 2002; from 2000 through 2007, Clooney had substantial roles in 13 movies, of which only four were not directed by the Coens, Soderbergh, or Clooney himself.) It didn’t get great reviews; even credited screenwriter Charlie Kaufman wasn’t much of a fan. But it has a typically live-wire Sam Rockwell performance, and filters bizarre cultural history through an arresting style; pretty great stuff, really.

I have no quarrel with Clooney’s acclaimed second at-bat, Good Night, and Good Luck, but maybe he learned the wrong lesson from the awards attention it received. Leatherheads and The Ides of March are perfectly watchable, but they don’t spring to life, especially compared to the work Clooney has done for other directors during the same period: Gravity, The Descendants, Up in the Air, Burn After Reading, and The American. As he moves away from Soderbergh and the Coens as influences, he’s also veered into the middle of the road. And despite that crazy-stacked cast, Monuments Men looks MOR as all hell; if you can’t get a single decent laugh line from Bill Murray into your trailer, either you’re making something moodier and more offbeat, or your caper movie might be in trouble.