Instead of relying on wild special effects and over the top performances, "The Monuments Men" uses a combination of dry, witty humor, a stand up cast, and well-suited, powerful instrumental music to tell an interesting story that is based on true events.
Directed by George Clooney and starring Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban, and Cate Blanchett, this solid comedy-drama follows the story of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program during WWII in which a group of American museum directors, curators, and art historians were charged with going over to Europe, protecting lost art, and recovering other important items that were missing.
American art conservation specialist and museum director, George Stout (Clooney) is approached to lead a group charged with the protection and documentation of damages to European cultural moments during WWII, as well as the investigation and recovery of art that had been plundered by the Nazis. He must ban together other historians, museum personnel, and various art professionals. Among this group are James Rorimer (Damon), Sgt. Richard Campbell (Murray), Sgt. Walter Garfield (Goodman), Lt. Jean-Claude Clermont (Dujardin), Pvt. Preston Savitz (Balaban), Major Donald Jeffries (Hugh Bonneville), and Sam Epstein (Dimitri Leonidas). Another major player in the group is French art historian, Rose Valland (Blanchett), who is employed at a museum in France while it is being occupied by the Germans, and who carefully records detailed notes about the Nazi plundering of National French and private Jewish-owned art from France. Using their knowledge, military and art/history connections, and various skills, this group of non-military civilians works their way around Europe uncovering millions of pieces of art while trying to avoid the Nazis.
I like to think that “The Monuments Men” embodies elements of older cinema. Staying away from large-scale special effects, the film focuses more on character relationships, deadpan comedy, and an intriguing side story to a major historical event. Whether a chase scene, sudden death, or sequence of Clooney putting together his band of men, there is fitting instrumental music for every occasion that conveys emotion or communicates the story effectively. There are several low or sad moments, but for the most part it’s an uplifting, entertaining, and fairly simple movie. Mostly everything in the film, like the buildings, landscapes, etc., looks great and authentic, but for some reason, everything is almost too pretty with a Hollywood-like, bright or glossy feel.
More often than not, “The Monuments Men” has scenes in which you don’t know what is going on until halfway through, or after it happens. Not to say that they needed to reveal or explain everything beforehand, but once the men get over to Europe, they split up into groups to investigate different areas. Here, the film constantly switches from one character or group to another, as well as shows the enemy from time to time. This can be confusing, as each scene does not appear to be completely connected with the last, yet fits into the overall story. Calling this movie slow does it an injustice, but there are very few action scenes and a great deal of time spent in lengthy discussion. Although it is based on true events and there are multiple casualties and emotional moments, there doesn’t seem to be a large sense of consequences or major risk.
While their names and story wouldn’t necessarily be remembered or acknowledged by the general public, these passionate art enthusiasts were willing to give their lives for the preservation of history and culture. There is much feeling of pride, passion, teamwork, and the willingness to fight for your country and protect these pieces of history. With the variety of different kinds of movies available today and the technological capabilities, it’s refreshing to find a film that uses an old school formula to create an all around decent presentation.
3.5 out of 5 stars.
“The Monuments Men” is rated PG-13 for some images of war violence and historical smoking. Running time is 1 hour and 58 minutes.
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Hayden Pittman is a special contributor to WFAA.com and a freelance film critic and entertainment blogger out of Dallas. More of his content can be found on YouPlusDallas.com and his author archive here. He is a film, TV, and sports enthusiast, and hopes to pursue a future in filmmaking and screenwriting. As an average, passionate film lover who rarely misses a film, his reviews are straightforward and his way with words will let you know in a simple way what he thinks. Don’t like what he has to say? Let him know at firstname.lastname@example.org.