The Monuments Men

Posted: February 8, 2014 in Movie Reviews

George Clooney, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban_Monuments Men

World War II is remembered as being multi-faceted throughout its 6-year history. But one aspect in particular that is relatively unfamiliar to the general populace is the mission that went on to save millions of pieces of valuable art. The art heist to steal back the stolen art.

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 Summary: (No spoilers)

Tasked by FDR to venture into Nazi-occupied Europe for the sole purpose of rescuing its stolen art, Frank Stokes (George Clooney) assembles a small group of art experts and historians for the mission. Among his limited list of men is James Granger (Matt Damon), Richard Campbell (Bill Murray), and Walter Garfield (John Goodman), among a few others. The group is dubbed “the Monuments Men” and are immediately sent to France to begin their arduous task.

Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett_Monuments Men

 With the cooperation of French art curator Claire Simone (Cate Blanchett), the Monuments Men venture past enemy lines, putting their very lives in danger, as they salvage and return over 5 million pieces of priceless art—–countless Rembrandts and Michelangelo masterpieces, sculptures, and the invaluable Madonna of Bruges—–most meant to be added to Hitler’s personal collection as he establishes his 1,000-year Reich.

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World War II really is a fascinating subject to study, because there was so much happening at that time in history. A basic study of the time period and events would render nearly a dozen subjects. The invasion of Normandy and the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in the European venue; the bombing of Pearl Harbor in the Pacific venue; the Manhattan Project and the use of the first atomic bomb; the Nazi concentration camps, there’s so much to absorb. But the mission to rescue Europe’s art collection? Unknown to most people who haven’t deeply studied the events.

 The film is directed by Clooney and contains an upscale cast. Throughout the film, Clooney weaves humor and buoyancy with the grave tone of the subject. But therein lies its chief and, really, only problem. At times, we’re given opportunities to reflect on how appalling Hitler’s regime truly was for not only millions of Jews and Europeans, but also millions of U.S. and British soldiers.

Monuments Men

 But these moments—–powerful though they may be—–are only briefly lived before we’re thrown back into the film’s main beat; which, on a negative note, doesn’t serve the film all too well. It gives the film more of a militarized, Dirty Dozen tone: amusing and upbeat. You at times feel like whistling the tune from The Bridge Over the River Kwai. While every film needs moments—–moments, mind you—–of lighthearted humor to relieve the tension, a film centering around World War II should not, in my opinion, be generally cheery or upbeat. However, considering this is a film centering on recovering stolen art and not a film about Dachau, this issue is less severe and still makes for an enjoyable film.

But the moments of reflective silence in which you do look at the precious artwork spanning over centuries, you do realize that these are more than paint on canvases or images carved from stone: they’re peoples’ lives, their heritage. You realize that many of these pieces of art as well as the warehouses of possessed items from the homes of Jewish families are more than just things: they’re proof of a society’s existence.

In a nutshell:

It’s not Oscar-worthy material, but The Monuments Men still seeks to educate and enlighten an entire generation about one of World War II’s many aspects. While lighthearted in tone where it shouldn’t have been, we’re still given ample opportunities to reflect on the times and, through key moments, think of what a group of 8 art curators went through to save an entire way of life.

 

8 stars

 

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