The Monuments Men is a film about a small group of soldiers tasked to protect, recover and return historically and culturally significant works of art during World War II. Since this is a film “based on true events”, there will be some spoilers here but I promise not to mention who lives or dies.
The film has a great cast, especially for someone like me. Joining the ranks of George Clooney and Matt Damon are personal favorites of mine, Bill Murray, John Goodman and Bob Balaban. Additionally, the film stars Cate Blanchett, Jean Dujardin, Hugh Bonneville and Dimitri Leonidas. The Monuments Men runs for 118 minutes and is rated PG-13.
Now to the plot. George Clooney’s character, Frank Stokes is responsible for putting together a small team of artistic experts who will go into Europe toward the end of the war and recover and protect artwork. For a short history lesson, the Nazi military was tasked by Hilter to collect priceless works of art from public and private collections. This art included paintings and sculptures. The art was stolen from homes, museums and galleries across France, Belgium, Poland, Italy and other European countries. Stokes and his team would attempt to find the stolen art and return as much of it as possible to the “rightful” owners. What makes this team more unique is that due to the overwhelming forces involved in the war, very few soldier-age men were available. That’s why the team consists of mainly older, professional men. Bill Murray’s character, Richard Campbell, is an architect for example.
Overall, I really enjoyed The Monuments Men. It is a bit slow getting started as they introduced the overall concept, concerns and the characters that would make up the final team. Clooney’s character is responsible for selling the entire idea not only to the President but also to the audience. The main question the film asks is quite simple, “is a work of art worth a man’s life?” It’s a question asked throughout the film and is answered plainly by simply showing the aftermath of the war and the job these brave men had accomplished. Where these men truly soldiers? Were they sacrificing as much as the soldier their fighting the Germans? In the end, it’s up to the audience to decide for themselves but I think I’ll side with Frank Stokes.
The movie as a whole is very solid. I feel that the acting was done quite well and the chemistry between the actors was surprisingly enjoyable. As fans of most of the primary cast, I honestly wasn’t sure how well they would fit together. As I noted, it does begin slowly but I think it was necessary given the unique concepts that needed to be relayed to the audience as well as the character development. If anyone’s story goes astray, it would be Matt Doman’s character, James Granger. While the men are all on the hunt for missing art, James is sent to Paris which is no longer occupied by the Nazis at this point. His mission is to look for clues as to the artworks whereabouts. Paris is a key location for this operation due to the incredibly large private collections that existed prior to the German occupation. James’ mission stands in stark contrast to the rest of his group due to the geographical location. While James is sitting in the beautifully pristine Paris, sipping coffee and talking with Cate Blanchett’s character, Claire Simone, Stokes and the rest of the crew are examining rubble, engaging in firefights and trying to stay alive near the front lines. At times it’s almost jarring going back and forth between these two seemingly different stories.
As far as the special effects are concerned, they were fairly decent. Only one scene felt fake with what appeared to be a poorly rendered blue screen. The action sequences were intense, believable and realistic to someone like me who has never been in those conditions. Meanwhile, the score was quite good, drawing me deeper into the intensity and emotions of the characters.
At the end of the day, I truly enjoyed and appreciate The Monuments Men for what it is. It accomplished what it set out to accomplish which was the telling of a group of seven men, risking their lives to save the culture of the human race. They weren’t fighting for America or the Allied Forces. They were fighting for history, for artistic accomplishment. They were fighting for the very thing that makes us human. And you know what… they did it very well.