Monday, February 10, 2014


Review by James Colt Harrison

Sometimes the most interesting stories are true. History is full of true stories that would warrant a motion picture being made. One of those true stories is the basis of George Clooney’s World War II film The Monuments Men from 20th Century Fox/Columbia Pictures.

Who were The Monuments Men? They were an Allied group of men whose main concern was finding and retrieving precious pieces of art and other culturally historical items before Hitler’s troops destroyed them.

Based on the book The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History as written by Robert M. Edsel, the film’s screenplay was fashioned by George Clooney and Grant Heslov to make it more palatable for today’s audiences. Not many people who were born after World War II are even aware of these events, so the film serves as a great reminder of what sacrifices were made to save our cultural heritage.

The platoon chosen to carry out the mission was drawn from men were were artists, architects, museum curators and art historians in real life. They were not strictly military men, but they had to go through basic training anyway. This group of middle-aged men were not cut out for battle, but they had to learn to defend themselves in any eventuality. Clooney and Heslov always inject a little humor into the otherwise serious subject. With such pros as John Goodman as a typical American and the affable and suave French star Jean Dujardin trading quips, the film presents much-needed lighter moments when situations get tough and serious.

Clooney plays Frank Stokes (a fictionalized version of Harvard art conservationist George Stout), the leader of the group. At times he borders on being almost preachy when he reminds us over and over how important these art treasures are and how imperative it is they be saved. He even convinced President Roosevelt to give him the go-ahead to enter Germany to capture the stolen artworks. Once would have been enough to get across the point and the main reason why these men had to put their lives in danger to save works of art.

Stokes took FDR’s ‘yes’ as approval and put together some knowledgeable guys who were too old to serve in the military and got them into shape. They were all eggheads of one sort or another. Sweet-natured Matt Damon played a strait-laced art expert, Bill Murray was recruited because he is an architect, Hugh Bonneville (so good in Downton Abbey) is recruited for his knowledge of British artworks, previously-mentioned Jean Dujardin is a French art dealer, Bob Balaban is an art historian, Goodman is a sculptor, and handsome young Dimitri Leonidas plays a German Jew who translates for them. It’s a marvelous cast and director Clooney tries to give them all some significant screen time.

Out of the blue Cate Blanchett’s character appears wearing a severe hairdo that looks much like Ruth Buzzi’s on TV’s Laugh In. No matter; she plays an important curator who catalogued all the Nazi stolen treasures. Her knowledge Is tremendously helpful to the guys, but she’s a sourpuss most of the time who wears a chip on her shoulder about the Americans being in her country. Damon, in his fractured French, reminds her she would be speaking German were it not for the American invasion. Banchett’s Rose Villand thaws a little and soon collaborates.

Clooney throws in a little action to keep the audience awake. However, this is not a typical Hollywood war picture with zillions of gunfights and planes dropping bombs. The men do engage is some firefighting and some are lost.

The picture serves its purpose in an entertaining way. We learn about how a brave group of men risked their lives—and lost some of them--- to save treasures such as Picassos, Van Goghs and Rodin sculptures from the nasty destructive hands of Hitler’s Nazis.

The picture used actual locations in Germany, such as the little town of Osterweik and the Berlin-Brandenburg region for outdoor shots. Indoor filming took lace at the famous Babelsburg Studios in Potsdam.

ArtsNFashion Winter 2013/2014
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