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The Monuments Men – Review
February 15, 2014
The Monuments Men is an entertaining and thought-provoking action adventure based on a true story. Directed by George Clooney, who also wrote the screenplay with frequent collaborator Grant Heslov, the film is adapted from the non fiction bestseller by Robert M. Edsel with Bret Witter and revolves around the enormous role played by a real life group called Monuments Men: seven museum artists, architects and art aficionados in their quest to rescue and preserve priceless pieces of art during World War II. On this mission to prevent the Nazis from destroying the world’s most notable art they’re allowed to perform their martial duty through this dangerous treasure hunt which is depicted in an enjoyable, emotive and old fashion way, reminiscent of classic war films such as The Dirty Dozen and The Great Escape.
We follow these seven men as they dare to venture deep into war-ravaged Europe to rescue and return the feats of global culture from the hands of the Nazis who have amassed a fortune of art and artefacts to rival even the lost treasure of King Solomon’s mines. The story is set against the impending fall of Germany, and the Nero Decree, where Hitler ordered that if the Führer and Germany were destroyed, then so would be the art and areas they had acquired. The film hosts an impressive ensemble cast that includes George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban, Hugh Bonneville and Cate Blanchett.
Clooney plays Art Historian Frank Stokes, who assembles the expendable team of treasure hunters to undergo the dangerous and still questionable cultural recovery mission. Clooney shines in his scenes and excels in his direction and intended vision to tell the relatively unknown story. He first began directing in 2002, with the highly entertaining Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and has gone on to assert himself as a first-class director. Still totally charming and irresistible, he remains a compelling actor and his achievements and dedication as a humanitarian also deserve our admiration. He reteams with Matt Damon for their sixth collaboration. Damon plays James Granger, who is deployed to gain information from Cate Blanchette’s character, art curator Claire Simone. Their interchanges are at times reminiscent of the romantic scenes in classic war movies and the style of the film feels like as if it was shot decades ago.
Great supporting roles such as a scene-stealing performance from the legendary Bill Murray, who shares comic and emotive scenes with an excellent Bob Balaban all aid to make the film a delight to watch. Murray had insisted on being a part of the film after hearing its incredible story, and Balaban, who most viewers will remember affectionately as Pheobe’s dad in Friends is great as art historian Preston Savitz. There’s also the reteaming of John Goodman and Jean Dujardin, who worked together in The Artist. Goodman delivers another great performance as over-the-hill Walter Garfield, still eager to venture to war. Jean Dujardin’s charming and heroic Jean Claude Clermont’s on screen chemistry with Goodman’s character does well to depict the brotherly bond of soldiers, and both excel in this regard. Downton Abbey’s Hugh Bonneville, plays Englishman Donald Jeffries, who is motivated by redemption to enlist and expertly conveys his character’s flaws and attributes in a realistic and reserved way. In a room of main event players, young Dimitri Leonidas also gives a charismatic performance as the German Monuments Man.
Shot on location in Germany, along with certain parts of England, its realistic production design creates a world that instantly transports you to war-ravaged Europe. The costume design is impeccable and the art displayed in the film is truly given the prestige place it deserves. Through a combination of sourcing art from rental houses, reproductions and high-resolution digital prints, the film pays tribute not only to the men who saved the art, but also the art they fought with honour and valour to preserve.
With an engaging and impressive ensemble cast, Clooney does well to create an original piece that reminds us of a period of optimistic, old fashioned and enjoyable films. The Monuments Men succeeds in delivering a valuable message about the importance of preserving culture in times of war and conflict: had it not been for these heroes, then the great art we know today may have been lost, and as admirers of art in all its forms we should all continue to fight to preserve culture across the world.
The Monuments Men is out in UK cinemas.