Magazine article The Spectator

Clooney's Tale

Magazine article The Spectator

Clooney's Tale

Article excerpt

The Monuments Men 12A, Nationwide You know that old quip 'I'm not just a pretty face'? I always thought it was meant to be said tongue-in-cheek, with an undertone of self-deprecation. Surely it's not for those literal instances when a really beautiful person does something really, really smart. It's for when those of us on the middle-to-lower rungs of the loveliness ladder have flashes of minor inspiration. And so, 'I'm not just a pretty face.' Like a joke. Hahahahaha.

But what would it mean if George Clooney - ol' salt-and-pepper-spit-curl George - said 'I'm not just a pretty face'?

The reason I ask is that he, or at least the character he's playing, does just that in his latest film The Monuments Men. We already know that Clooney's Frank Stokes is smart because he's an art historian. We already know that he's handsome because he's played by George Clooney. But then he has to go and say it, after building a radio out of scrap: 'I'm not just a pretty face.' It almost frazzled my brain as I watched. But. . . but. . .

George. . . you are a pretty face, so do you. . . er. . . mean it literally? Are you telling us that you're super-smart as well as seriously goodlooking?

Future Cloonologists may regard this as a significant moment. For more than 15 years now - since his performance in Steven Soderbergh's Out of Sight (1998), I'd say - Clooney has been doing a lot to show us that he's not just a pretty face, particularly by directing Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002) and Good Night, and Good Luck (2005). But now, with The Monuments Men, his fifth film as director, he's telling us about it. And it's not just that single line. The entire film is a sorry exercise in telling, not showing.

But, before we get on to that, some context. The Monuments Men is based on the real-life efforts of various academics, agents and soldiers who hurried around Europe during the second world war trying to rescue great artworks from the rubble or - worse - from Hitler's grand designs. According to the history books, there were hundreds involved in this operation, but Clooney reduces it to a crack team of actors: himself (of course), Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin (the French actor who, avec moustache, played the silent film star in The Artist, and, sans moustache, had some of the best scenes in The Wolf of Wall Street), Bob Balaban and Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey) . …

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