“The Monuments Men” steps away from the bloody side of World War II and into a place where people not only fight for their country, but for art and culture too.
In a period of chaos and panic, the film follows a team full of art and cultural enthusiasts who find and save stolen works of art from Hitler and his army, as well as protect certain landmarks and monuments from being destroyed.
Directed by George Clooney who also stars in the film, “The Monuments Men” is based on real life events as well as Robert M. Edsel’s book, “The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History.”
The team is based on an actual group called Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives (MFAA), which was formed during World War II.
Clooney portrays Lt. Frank Stokes, the leader of the team. The team features big names from Hollywood including Lt. James Granger (Matt Damon), Sgt. Walter Garfield (John Goodman), Sgt. Richard Campbell (Bill Murray), and Lt. Donald Jeffries (Hugh Bonneville). All of the characters in the film are inspired by real people in Edsel’s book.
It is important to point out that all of these men are not soldiers. Some of them are curators for a museum while others are sculptors and architects. Though all of them wear soldiers’ uniforms, they were not thought of as soldiers.
In the film, set in the final years of World War II, Clooney’s character informs President Roosevelt that many paintings and sculptures were stolen by the Nazis to be featured in Hitler’s purposed Fuhrer Museum. Clooney offers to assemble a team to find these artworks because he claims that Hitler wants to get rid of the achievements that America and other countries have made. If Hitler does this, he would destroy the foundation that many societies are based on.
The film seems like a crossover of the “Ocean Eleven” series (also starring Clooney), and “National Treasure.” Both movies have overlapping themes of heists and treasure hunting that are present in “The Monuments Men.” Clooney tries to balance different elements in the film such as finding a perfect mixture of comedic moments and dramatic scenes.
For a war film, “The Monuments Men” has many more lighthearted and amusing moments than expected. When Murray’s character finds one of his men held at gunpoint by a soldier that does not understand or speak English, Murray slowly sits down on the ground and the two follow suit. After an awkward silence, the three men bond over a pack of cigarettes with the soldier hilariously repeating the only English word that he knows: John Wayne.
The way that Murray plays off of Pvt. Preston Savitz (Bob Balaban) is really pleasing on screen. Although Balaban is visually a man with small stature, he presents himself as an upfront character that wants to prove himself. He is usually the straight man to Murray’s jokes.
One of the heartwarming scenes is when Murray’s character is too emotional to play a tape that his family sent him for Christmas. Balaban plays the tape of Murray’s wife singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” when Murray is showering. Murray looks at the screen with tears in his eyes, knowing who played the tape.
That scene also juxtaposes different moments of the war. Murray is feeling isolated from his family but also glad that his friends are there with him. The scene also features a man who watches as medics try to save his wounded friend, which demonstrates one of the terrors of war.
For a war film, there are a very limited amount of action scenes. There are guns and explosives in “The Monuments Men,” but the violence feels like it is played down. An explanation could be that the war is just a backdrop for what the film is really trying to portray. The film included more conversations between people and scenes of finding the lost art over battle scenes.
The acting in the film was well done, although at times the film dragged. Clooney did a believable job as a curator at a museum, which might have resulted in a sometimes dull performance. However, his storytelling voice made the audience listen to his speeches about protecting the artworks.
In the end, “The Monuments Men” is a very solid film that doesn’t really have big spectacular moments. It tried hard to make the audience hit an emotional level but didn’t quite accomplish it.
Maybe the message is bigger than the film. World War II wasn’t just about surviving the chaos and the panic, it was about protecting and preserving our art, our culture, and our past, which is the foundation of our future.