The Monuments Men
Film Review by Kam Williams
Most people are probably unaware that while Hitler was sweeping across Europe during World War II, he simultaneously directed his army to plunder any priceless works of art found in the course of its pillaging. For, believe it or not, the cultural rape of the beleaguered continent was all a part of the Fuhrer’s diabolical plan which not only included conquest and ethnic cleansing but turning his Austrian hometown into the cultural capital of the Third Reich.
Consequently, millions of artifacts were looted from museums, churches and private collections and transported to subterranean sites such as salt mines where they’d be safe from aerial attacks. However, the madman’s demented scheme also called for the destruction of any treasures he deemed degenerate if they conflicted with his propaganda campaign touting Germany’s racial purity and manifest destiny.
So, towards the end of the war, when the Allies caught wind of what was afoot, they assembled a team of curators, archivists and art historians whose stated mission was to retrieve and preserve as many of the stolen items as possible. With time of the essence, the seven experts started scouring the ravaged countryside in search of missing masterpieces.
That urgent effort is the subject of The Monuments Men, a bittersweet adventure directed by George Clooney. This tragicomic account of the crack platoon’s heroics is very loosely-based on Robert Edsel’s relatively-sober best seller of the same name, a meticulously-researched, 512-page opus encyclopedic in scope.
The film adaptation, which understandably conflates events and characters as a concession to the cinematic formula, was essentially designed with the masses in mind. Clooney, who stars as Frank Stokes, surrounded himself with a talented cast capable of convincingly executing with perfect aplomb a script which tends to veer back and forth recklessly between suspense and gallows humor.
His A-list ensemble features fellow Academy Award-winners Matt Damon (for Good Will Hunting), Cate Blanchett (for The Aviator) and Jean Dujardin (for The Artist), and nominees Bill Murray (for Lost in Translation) and Bob Balaban (for Gosford Park), as well as John Goodman and Hugh Bonneville. Given the palpable chemistry generated by their characters’ camaraderie, it’s a little sad that they don’t all survive the perilous trek behind enemy lines.
A history lesson about an obscure chapter of World War II successfully turned into entertaining Hollywood fare.
Very Good (3 stars)
Rated PG-13 for violence and smoking
In English, French, German and Russian with subtitles
Running time: 118 minutes
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
To see a trailer for The Monuments Men, visit: