Directed by GEORGE CLOONEY
Starring GEORGE CLOONEY, MATT DAMON, CATE BLANCHETT, BILL MURRAY,
BOB BALABAN, JOHN GOODMAN, and JEAN DUJARDIN
'Monuments Men' is based on the novel of the same name by Robert Esdel and is described as the "greatest treasure hunt in history." This may not be far from the truth. I could never imagine a world without artistic masterpieces such as the Mona Lisa, Michelangelo's David, Picasso, or da Vinci's Last Supper, but that was exactly what was at stake. I remembered reading about the recent discovery of 1,500 art pieces found in the Munich apartment of Cornelius Gurlitt. Gurlitt was the son of Hildebrand Gurlitt, who was an art dealer during the Nazi regime. It was determined that a large portion of this art was likely stolen by the Nazis from private Jewish collectors who were no doubt killed in concentration camps. Gurlitt's hidden stash is an ugly reminder of this atrocious time in history and why the 'Monuments Men' were needed in the first place.
|Matt Damon and George Clooney|
IF YOU DESTROY AN ENTIRE
generation of people's culture, it's as if THEY NEVER EXISTED. THAT'S WHAT
Hitler wants, and it's the one thing
WE CAN'T ALLOW.
Frank Stokes [Monuments Men]
Stokes' first choice is a Metropolitan Museum of Art curator with "a bad ticker," Lt. James Granger (Matt Damon). He quickly recruits a colorful architect Sergeant Richard Campbell (Bill Murray), a talented sculptor Sgt Walter Garfield (John Goodman), and theater director Private Preston Savitz (Bob Balaban). When the group hops the pond to the UK for basic training, they are met by a drunken, but witty Major Donald Jeffries (Huge Bonneville of 'Downton Abbey'), suave art teacher Jean-Claude Clermont (Jean Dujardin of 'The Artist'), and a young German-American soldier who serves as their translator, Private Sam Epstein (Dimitri Leonidas). Cate Blanchette plays Claire, a French art curator, who reluctantly collaborated with the Nazis, whilst secretly working with the French Resistance.
|Matt Damon (Granger), Hugh Bonneville (Jeffries), and George Clooney (Stokes)|
|The Monuments Men|
One thing to remember is that it's a movie, not a documentary, so it is a fictionalized version of a true tale. But the cast of the 'Monuments Men' were based on real-life people, some of whom lost their lives in this noble quest. One of the most poignant scenes in the film is when Major Jeffries is shot and killed whilst trying to rescue his favorite work of art, Michelangelo's 'Madonna and Child' of Bruges. The 'Madonna and Child' is a magnificent piece and one could understand why Jeffries would gallantly die protecting it, despite not being Catholic. Art connects us as human beings. Whether the art was drawn in caves thousands of years ago, in Egyptian pyramids, or sculpted in medieval Europe, art is one of the things that makes us human.
Like the film, the real Major Jeffries' (Major Ronald Balfour) death was both tragic and heroic. Balfour was a medieval historian from Cambridge. He was known to hitchhike to and from historical sites. Balfour was killed by an infantry shell while trying to remove an altarpiece from a church. Although Balfour may have not been directly involved with the rescue of the 'Madonna and Child,' the 'Monuments Men' did in fact rescue the 'Madonna and Child' and the 'Ghent's Altarpiece.' The Ghent Altarpiece is a paneled masterpiece by Jan Van Eyck in 1432.
The movie does get bogged down in the middle with sentimentality and a lack of focus. One such scene is when Campbell (Murray's character) receives an audio recording on a record from his family, whom he dearly misses. Savitz, his rival and friend, finds a phonograph and plays the record for him over the intercom. Campbell's wife serenades him 'Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,' with lines that were not written until 1957--a full 12 years after this film was set. A minor gaffe, but still. Was this necessary? It did nothing to move the story along. My father was a soldier in Vietnam, his uncle was a soldier in World War II, my great-grandfather died in World War I. Those of us who come from military families know that soldiers miss their families. It's a given. Showing that a soldier is homesick does not have to be so heavy handed. It could have been much more subtle.
|Matt Damon (Granger) and Cate Blanchett (Claire)|
|The Real 'Monuments Men'|
|The Ghent Altarpiece|
Then there was a possible romance between Blanchett and Damon's characters. Blanchett's character tries to seduce Damon's character, despite knowing that he was married. I know this type of thing unfortunately happens, but it didn't make sense in this context. I've heard of the Mr. Darcy-effect (I hate you, no I love you), but one moment Blanchett's character has nothing but disdain for Damon's character, then she not only attempts to seduce him, but she is eager to hand over her her journal, which is the key to recovering much of the stolen art. The journal part I understand, as once she came to trust him, the 'Monuments Men' needed all the help they could get locating the stolen art, but the seduction was strange. It was almost like, "hey we have Cate Blanchett and Matt Damon in the same room, let's make them kiss." Perhaps there is more to this scene on the cutting room floor? You wouldn't know it from the film, but Valland's records were primarily responsible for the recovery of thousands of masterpieces. Blanchett's character should have been more integral to the storyline.
|John Goodman, Matt Damon, George Clooney, Bob Balaban, and Bill Murray|
Yet, I really enjoyed this movie. 'Monuments Men' is a beautiful film. The sets and the scenery are lush and amazing. 'Monuments Men' was primarily filmed in Germany and that is something that cannot easily be faked. I also enjoyed the movie because it showed a slice of world history that I was not aware of. The sheer volume of the Nazis thievery was almost unfathomable. I was unaware of the near destruction of art masterpieces. In that aspect, 'Monuments Men' was eye-opening and intriguing. I would recommend it for the art history buff. Had I not seen this movie I would have never known about these incredible men and women who saved five million works of art from certain oblivion and considering the most recent find in Gurlitt's Munich apartment, the 'Monuments Men' may still be needed.
THREE OUT FIVE STARS