I’m writing this movie review after watching it for the second time in as many days. I watched this last night at a friend’s house but was often distracted by conversation. I decided to rent it and see it again because the first night showed me there was substance in it.
Loosely based on the non-fiction book by Robert M. Edsel, The Monuments Men tells the story of Allied efforts working to recover stolen art treasure from the Nazi’s. It was the greatest treasure hunt at a time when European cities were being bombed into oblivion while the retreating German army, lead by ruthless thugs, somehow thought they could hold onto the art of most of western culture. The film focus is on a handful of those tasked with finding and saving pieces of art and other culturally important items before their destruction by Hitler’s Nazi’s during World War II.
The real Monuments Men were composed of approximately 345 men and women from thirteen nations, with many having expertise in art, history, architecture and education. Most of them volunteered for service in the contemporary created MFAA section during World War II. Their essential mission: to protect, secure, and return cultural treasures as much as would be possible in an active theater of war.
The summation of the movie is made early on, by an impromptu speech from the person whom George Clooney portrays.
Frank Stokes: “You can wipe out an entire generation, you can burn their homes to the ground and somehow they’ll still find their way back. But if you destroy their history, you destroy their achievements and it’s as if they never existed. That’s what Hitler wants and that’s exactly what we are fighting for.”
It sounds a bit Knute Rockne but the words explain something which is often overlooked in war. The truth about war and it’s consequences can never be fully examined and explained on film or in books. Those with first hand experience won’t forget but the real challenge is for everyone that hasn’t, is to determine for themselves that war of any kind is never a first or last resort, it’s the choice of mad men. In reality however, those who commit the egregious acts and are the aggressors, control the level of participation because as much as all sane people wish to avoid armed conflict, those willing to initiate won’t stop until they are physically forced or themselves exterminated.
There are few surprises in the movie but none the less, writing and film were both done at a quality level. I should have recognized Cate Blanchett early on in the movie, but the fact that I didn’t once again testifies to the level of chameleon performance she can lend to a part. She blends into a role like a Meryl Streep. George Clooney adds sufficient weight to the cast but another little surprise for me was Bill Murray. Rather than pushing his personality at us as he does in some comedic role, he works to blend in and add a little of that Chicago style wit to the part. Overall the movie was close to the level of story evolvement when Clint Eastwood directs a film.
(slight spoiler alert) I do like the little moment at the end when Frank Stokes returns as an aged grandfather with grandson on tour of some of the returned art works. This role fell to his father, Nick Clooney and I have to admit that was a nice touch. I can recommend this movie to those who appreciate the history of that era as well as those who understand the significance our art, texts and architecture help to define a culture and are the legacy for generations to appreciate.
- George Clooney as Lt. Frank Stokes, loosely based on George L. Stout
- Nick Clooney plays the aged Stokes in the film’s final scene.
- Matt Damon as Lt. James Granger, loosely based on James Rorimer
- Bill Murray as Sgt. Richard Campbell, loosely based on Ralph Warner Hammett and Robert K. Posey
- John Goodman as Sgt. Walter Garfield, loosely based on Walker Hancock
- Jean Dujardin as Lt. Jean-Claude Clermont
- Bob Balaban as Pvt. Preston Savitz, loosely based on Lincoln Kirstein
- Hugh Bonneville as Lt. Donald Jeffries, loosely based on Ronald E. Balfour
- Cate Blanchett as Claire Simone, loosely based on Rose Valland
- Sam Hazeldine as Colonel Langton
- Dimitri Leonidas as Pvt. Sam Epstein, loosely based on Harry L. Ettlinger
Find out more about the Monuments Men in the following linked articles:
- Harry Ettlinger fled the Nazis – Returned Six Years Later to Recover Stolen Art. – UK Mail
- The Monuments Men Foundation – for the preservation of art.
- Box Office Mojo – the cost & proceeds of the film