[Ed. – Bonus points if you can parse the “chewy substance” passage.]
There was an event known as World War II. You and I know that, more or less, though we may differ over when it started, or what its results were. The Monuments Men is wary of that public ignorance (and even the indifference behind it), so there are rapid history lessons to encourage us. Those wicked Germans were busy as hell during the war, but as well as eliminating peoples, conquering nations, collecting gold, and setting standards for beastliness, they were greedy for art (I believe they thought of it as Art). Like most earnest people fighting a war, they were easily confused. So they would sometimes steal great works of art and culture, and sometimes they would incinerate them. As a matter of fact, even empires without a war on their hands have sometimes been as muddled over art, let alone Art.
That’s how George Clooney decides what a cool fellow has to do. Yes, Clooney plays a “character” in this film, just as he co-produced it, co-wrote it, and directed it. There is even a moment when his wry, wistful fellow muses over his old life, when he would get a coffee and an onion bagel at a New York deli—it feels like chewy substance. But it’s just George, looking dapper but rather elderly in uniform and setting out to save the great works of plundered art because—after all, guys—isn’t that what this war is about? Or was the war fought to promote dumb movies? …
You get the picture—and so do the guys—in what is a shamelessly archaic and ruinously inept adventure film periodically pausing for solemn lectures on just what Art means to us all. The climax of the film is a “race against time” in which the guys attempt to save the golden oldies before the Soviets get to the salt mine where the art has been stored. The Soviets are depicted with unrelenting crudity and cliché (like the Germans, the French, the Brits and the Americans), and the shockingly trite score (by Alexandre Desplat) marks them as villains scarcely more ugly than the Nazis. Well, it was a dirty war and a lot of low blows were delivered.