Movie Review: The Monuments Men
By Matt Patton
The Monuments Men (2014)
Director: George Clooney
Starring: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Bob Balaban, Jean Dujardin
Every year in the post-“awards season” lull that surrounds the month of February, few films end up rising to the level above routine rom-coms and other cheesy February fare that populate theater screens until the spring blockbusters roll around. The Monuments Men is precisely one of those special films. Actor/director/screenwriter/producer/all-around-Renaissance-man George Clooney brings to the table a singular vision of exactly that which he wants his film to be, and — at the very least — The Monuments Men is an enjoyable, accessible flick that illustrates an extraordinary true story about courage, culture and passion.
Clooney stars as Frank Stokes, a professor and art historian who proposes that a small group of Army-trained scholars enter Nazi-occupied Europe in an attempt to prevent the Reich from re-purposing or destroying massive amounts of artwork and effectively eliminating the legacy of artists throughout history. The men joining Stokes in his endeavors are a mixed bag of characters played to gratification by one of the more distinguished groups of actors in recent memory: Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Hugh Bonneville, Bob Balaban and Jean Dujardin. These self-titled “Monuments Men” also become assisted by a Resistance-allied Frenchwoman played by Cate Blanchett. Working together to track down these stolen pieces of art, this medley of improvised soldiers must also race against the clock, as the Allies are winning the war and Hitler has a system in place to burn centuries’ worth of art if he should be killed or surrender. In effect, if he can’t have all the paintings, sculptures and literature for his own “Fuhrer Museum,” then no one can.
The Monuments Men does a lot of things right. Most importantly, the picture knows when to be slyly humorous and when to flex its dramatic muscles. Sometimes these contrasting moments come in close contact with one another, but those scenes never overstep their bounds thematically due to the film’s consistently wry, heartfelt and mildly quirky tone. And tonally, the film is quite reminiscent of the 1963 classic war epic The Great Escape. Given Clooney’s fondness for films of the Hollywood Renaissance, one wonders if this similarity is intentional.
As entertaining as The Monuments Men is, it isn’t without its faults. Sometimes the plot moves forward at a breakneck speed. At the beginning of the film, this is a good thing. But as the story unfolds, it becomes difficult for some viewers to follow. A byproduct of this is that some characters don’t get fully fleshed out before the credits roll. Some of the characters that do get complete arcs give the movie an extra sense of force, though. In particular, some of the scenes with Murray and Balaban are a pleasure to watch.
If you’re looking for a great, morally-charged film that takes a look at the effects of war — on not just a continent, but also a collective human culture — look no further. The Monuments Men will give you enough genuine emotion attached to some witty dialogue and a sweeping narrative to sustain you until spring.