You’d think by now Hollywood would’ve told all the tales there are to tell about the Second World War but George Clooney pulled a new one from the archives with “The Monuments Men.”
Directed by and starring Clooney (who also wrote the screenplay along with Grant Heslov), “The Monuments Men” tells the story of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program — a team of art scholars turned soldiers tasked with finding and preserving works of art stolen by the Nazis as they made their way through Europe. The movie is based on the book “The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History” by Robert M. Edsel.
As the war is winding down, word gets out that Adolf Hitler has been collecting classic artwork from throughout the countries he has conquered with the plan to house them in a giant “Fuehrer Museum.” With permission from President Franklin Roosevelt, George L. Stout (Clooney) puts together a 7-man squad of art experts to find the hidden treasures and return them to their owners.
The team — James Rorimer (Matt Damon), Richard Campbell (Bill Murray), Walter Garfield (John Goodman), Preston Savitz (Bob Balaban), Donald Jeffries (Hugh Bonneville) and Jean-Claude Clermont (Jean Dujardin) — spend some time in basic training before being shipped overseas.
Once in Europe they split into teams to better cover the countryside. Rorimer winds up in Paris where he finds a reluctant — but eventually very helpful — ally in Rose Valland (Cate Blanchett) an art historian and museum curator.
“The Monuments Men” is an unusual war film. It’s more a mystery/detective story than a traditional war story — these soldiers are trying to unravel the clues to where hidden treasures are buried rather than trying to take a hill or save a buddy.
And while modern war movies emphasize the brutal horror of battle, “Monuments Men” feels antiseptic and almost bloodless. That’s in large part due to the story taking place as the war is in its final stages, but even in those moments of tension and gunfire Clooney keeps things neat and clean.
The movie varies wildly in tone. It’s more lighthearted and humorous than most war movies but it also has moments of tension, tragedy and a good deal of sappy sentimentalism. The message that art is important and should be preserved comes through loud and clear.
“The Monuments Men” is an uneven film but for the most part entertaining. It’s boasts a wonderful cast that are all worth watching but it feels like it could’ve been more.