A Monumental Achievement – A review of The Monuments Men

The Monuments Men stars Matt Damon as an art expert and George Clooney as the head of an elite unit of misfit soldiers tasked with saving precious artifacts at the tail end of World War II.  Clooney also directs and co-wrote the screenplay.
The Monuments Men stars Matt Damon as an art expert and George Clooney as the head of an elite unit of misfit soldiers tasked with saving precious artifacts at the tail end of World War II. Clooney also directs and co-wrote the screenplay.

Title: The Monuments Men

Production Company: Columbia Pictures/Fox 2000

Run Time: 118 minutes

Rated: PG-13

Director: George Clooney

Stars: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Cate Blanchett, Bob Balaban

5 stars for The Monuments Men

Summary: War is never painless and one of the first casualties of any war is the culture of the people under attack. This movie, based on a true story, is a fine depiction of the efforts to save thousands of years of cultural history.

Generally speaking, World War II is not a laughing matter. Of course comedies about war and fighting hit the big screen all the time.

And with a cast list that includes Bill Murray and John Goodman, one would expect this movie to be, at least on some wavelength, a comedy.

Rather this movie does blend some humorous elements into a serious portrait of a band of seven men who are tasked with saving some of the world’s greatest artifacts at a time when a self-centered egomaniac issued an edict of destruction in the event that the tide should turn and Germany should lose the war.

George Clooney heads the band of misfits, given the task after he cogently presents his thesis to then president Franklin D. Roosevelt. He recruits masters of various artistic disciplines to aid in the search for these notable artworks.

The ultimate challenge will be to find where the Nazis have hidden the cultural gems. Some are easier to locate than others. In at least one instance, the boxes of recovered items are piled high in a warehouse that is strongly reminiscent of the final scene in another WWII era based classic, Raiders of the Lost Ark.

But the Fuehrer will not give up his treasures easily. It’s his plan that, if Germany is triumphant, he will display his stolen treasures in a magnificent Fuehrer’s Museum that will be built near Berlin.

As is the case with most war movies, not all the characters will be unscathed at the conclusion of the tale. I found it rather intriguing at the end to see who would live and who would die.

The acting, though, is top notch and even the directing, which I think is a forte of Clooney’s, is spot on when bringing a tale of this intricacy to life. Matt Damon was a bit distracting as one of the younger “masters” of the mission, but even he manages to pull it off believably.

A fine addition to the cast, and a necessary distraction to the war element, is Cate Blanchett. She plays the secretary at one of the German artifact collection sites and she personally witnesses the reported locations to where many of the pieces are sent out. Her brother is killed while trying to liberate some of these artifacts.

While she finds it hard to trust the boyish charms of Damon, who is sent to find her and learn what she knows, she eventually succumbs and provides the unit with the information they will need to get these extraordinary finds back.

Indeed Goodman and Bob Balaban provide much needed levity throughout the picture. The larger gentleman never realizes that the soldiers in a training exercise are actually shooting live rounds at him (fortunately, he never finds out first hand) and the elder gent is arguably, at the time, the oldest private on record.

For many of those that died during the war, their legacies provided the only proof that they ever existed. Had the military not made this effort to recover these astonishing finds, whole families could have been completely erased from memories and forgotten through the years.

But brave souls like the famed Monuments Men, named for the extraordinary effort they made to recover the monuments of culture they manage to save, deserved to be immortalized and recognized in a very special manner. I give The Monuments Men 4-1/2 out of 5 stars.

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