“The Monuments Men” Shines a Light on a Largely Forgotten Part of WWII History

The Monuments Men

The_Monuments_Men_posterRelease Date: February 7, 2014
Cast: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban, Hugh Boneville, Cate Blanchett, Dimitri Leonidas
Director: George Clooney
Studio: Columbia Pictures, Fox 2000 Pictures, Smokehouse Pictures, Studio Babelsberg
Distributor: Columbia Pictures, Sony Pictures
Genre(s): Action, Drama, History, Biography
Based On the similarly named The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert M. Edsel

Rating: ★★★★☆
Review Spoilers: Low
IMDB | Rotten Tomatoes | Wikipedia

This review is for all of our history nerds in the Nerdophiles family. Which, you know, includes me. Growing up I was a little obsessed with history. Especially American military history. And back in undergrad I was an international relations major and I spent a fair amount of time studying World War II as I am sure you can imagine. Consequently, I sort of have a thing for war films. So when I heard about the Monuments Men film I was definitely intrigued.

And after seeing it?

I’m kind of in love. It was a great film with a great cast. I really don’t understand why it’s getting such mixed reviews from other outlets because if you ask me it was fantastic. This is probably my favorite film of 2014 so far.

Monuments Men tells the largely forgotten story of the men who were responsible for making sure some of history’s greatest masterpieces weren’t lost forever to the Nazi regime. All throughout the war German officers were seizing priceless pieces of art – painting, statues, tapestries – from Jewish owners, private galleries, churches and anyone else they could before hiding them away all around Germany. In an attempt to recover those pieces and return them to the places they belonged a group of artists, scholars, professors, and professionals were brought together to follow the Allied Forces into Europe and track them down.

For some reason Wikipedia bills this as an ‘action-comedy’ which it is decidedly not. Just because we’ve got a handful of older, often funny guys on hand that doesn’t make this a comedy. Yes, there are plenty fantastic and humorous moments. But it is not the sort of movie you should go into expecting  itto be funny. The plot and subject matter are very serious. It’s very much a war story. People die but there far subtler hints the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime that hit even harder. You’ll go from laughing in one scene to crying in another. No, seriously. I cried. Probably three times. Silent, manly tears.

You care about the characters.

And you start to care about the art. If you don’t know about the Ghent Altarpiece you will after this film. The Madonna of Bruges, too.

The cast did a fantastic job with the story and script they were given. Monuments Men feels very much like a classic ensemble war film but it’s not the sort of cast you would have expected. Matt Damon is no Pvt. Ryan this time around. Instead he and the others are largely intellectuals coming into a war zone to face a challenge for which they are uniquely prepared and yet probably not prepared for at all. Jane joked that George Clooney’s presence almost makes it seem like a fourth Ocean’s 11 film and the early montage of Clooney recruiting his team adds to that. It’s a movie that knows when to balance the humor that comes with old friends and colleagues with the serious nature of war. The movie partners up the various characters at times and sends them off together across Europe on different missions which helps to build their relationships but also our relationships with them. The inclusion of Cate Blanchett’s character offered a brief reprieve, too, from an almost entirely male class and gave us a very honest view of what it probably feels to have lived and lost under an occupied regime.

A lot of people I think rated this movie low because they wanted the movie to pick where it was going atmosphere-wise. But I don’t think it needed to choose levity or seriousness. I imagine that people find and latch on to whatever humor they can and the sort of camaraderie between the characters we saw wasn’t unlike the kind you saw at times in Band of Brothers or other war films. There is, however, probably more of it than you usually see. And I appreciated that the movie did avoid quite a few of the usual stereotypes you might have expected – especially when it came to Matt Damon and Cate Blanchett’s characters.

I thought it was a great movie. Probably not award winning by any means. Nor was it probably entirely historically accurate. (I can’t imagine these guys being allowed to be the first to go into the places they did with just the seven of them – and often even fewer when they split up – especially when the real team consisted of over 400 service members.) But the pacing was right, the cast was stellar, and it’s a must for history fans. I will say, though, it may not be for the younger crowd. It’s very much a cast and story for a more mature audience.

Final Thoughts:
While it’s not the Dirty Dozen or Saving Private Ryan, the Monuments Men is a great look at the Second World War from a rather unique perspective. The story is about a different breed of a soldier with a very noble mission – to protect not just the lives of civilians but to preserve their culture and history. It’s a great movie that leaves you walking away satisfied. It’s fun and serious at the same time and the cast alone make it worth seeing.

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