Most of us like to think we'd stride into a combat zone to save a distressed child. But would we do the same for a Michelangelo Madonna? You can see why George Clooney would be attracted to these heroes, particularly as Robert M. Edsel (with Bret Witter) presents them in his gloriously readable 2009 book. Edsel focuses on the eight men, among them museum curators and art historians, who trekked to Europe at the tail end of World War II "to inspect and preserve" every important work of art or architecture in the path of the Allied forces between the English Channel and Berlin -- and, as it turns out, ended up saving hundreds of stolen works that Hitler's troops had amassed for a grand museum to be built in the Führer's honor in Austria. History, politics, and civic ideals are catnip to Clooney the director, but The Monuments Men, either despite its clearly noble intentions or because of them, stumbles on the march. Clooney and co-writer Grant Heslov embellish, rearrange, and condense many of the details, none of which is a problem. But Clooney can't control the story; it keeps flying out of his grasp like an unruly spring. The Monuments Men feels loose and disorganized, even though all the requisite cogs have been accounted for. His great skill as a director may be his affinity for actors, and the performers here (Jean Dujardin, John Goodman, Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray.) always have some quiet sparkle about them. Monuments Men fails in its grand ambitions, but it's still satisfying in bits and pieces, like a busted statue.