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Movie Review: The Monuments Men

By Edited Jul 10, 2016 3 4

Certificate 12A, 118 minutes

Director: George Clooney

Stars: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray

The Monuments Men starts off with the Ghent Altarpiece - in a church in Ghent, Belgium - being dismantled before moving to Nazi occupied Paris in 1943 where Hermann Goering (Udo Kroschwald) is examining art with Dr. Stahl (Justus von Dohnányi) for shipping back to Germany. Another clip shows Da Vinci's The Last Supper in Milan in 1943, before going to a presentation by Frank Stokes (George Clooney, Gravity) where he says that the art in Europe is now under threat and that he wants something started to protect and recover the art that has been stolen.

Stokes gets the go-ahead to form such a group, the Monuments Men, but he is limited to men that would normally have been considered unsuitable for military service, because all the young art scholars are already in the military. He recruits a small team of seven experts (with an eighth addition later) including himself, starting with James Granger (Matt Damon, Contagion, Elysium), and, an 1944 after the Normandy landings his team lands in France. Stokes gets little co-operation from most of the military commanders, who are more worried about the lives of their men than preserving any bits of art. This isn't helped by the fact that the highest rank of anyone in their small group is that of Lieutenant - Stokes - so they have very little military authority.

The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History
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As the film opens it states that it is "Based on a true story" but the more actual statement would be "Loosely based on actual events." None of the characters portrayed actually existed as such, but many were based on real people.

It is also (loosely) based on the book The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert M. Edsel although the book is non-fiction and the film is definitely fiction. This is not a historically accurate film by any stretch.

The Monuments Men
There was the complaint that the film was marginalising the British involvement - something that is hardly new in Hollywood films, with one of the most infamous examples being U-571 which re-wrote the story completely - and both the Briton and the Frenchman in the group appear to be there as purely a token gesture as there was no way of completely writing both nations out, but they are really a mere backdrop to the five American soldiers who make up the majority.[1] The actual program - the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program, the members of which were nicknamed the Monuments Men - had substantially more men, even if only a few hundred, from substantially more countries - 13 - than are depicted in this film, so it marginalises the involvement of every country with the sole exception of the United States. It's not that surprising that knowledge of history is so poor when films purporting to depict it are works of fiction, even those films that are otherwise good (such as Gladiator).

During the Second World War a lot of art did go missing and some is still missing - with some of that still being recovered, with the discovery of over 1,400 pieces of art discovered in Munich[2] - but much was saved and collected by the efforts of the Monuments Men. At the close of the film there are some photographs that look like they might be genuine ones from the time. The film also seems rather rushed despite being nearly 2 hours long, partly because this was a story that, in the film at least, covered over a year's events, even if it much of it was concentrated over several months.

This isn't helped by the small team is then split up and the characters are then sent all over Europe in even smaller groups. Matt Damon's character spends much of the film in Paris, away from everyone else, with Claire Simone (Cate Blanchett, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies) who was employed by Stahl during the Nazi occupation and doesn't trust the Monuments Men anymore than she did the Nazis, believing that all they, too, want is to steal the art for themselves. The other seven are split into four more groups which results in five small sets of characters, some of them by themselves, in different places across Europe with the story swapping from one to another. This contributes to the rushed feeling the film gives. The division of the group also seems to lack logic - why send one man to look for one sculpture and two to look for hundreds of pieces of art? There are some humorous parts to the film, although these don't seem to fit in that well - this isn't a funny tale and many of the events are not funny. The true story of the Monuments Men is probably quite inspiring, but this film seems to diminish the true story somewhat in an attempt to make it more personal.

The Monuments Men egdcltd 2014-02-26 3.0 0 5
3/5
The Monuments Men
Amazon Price: $4.45 Buy Now
(price as of Jul 10, 2016)
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Comments

Mar 8, 2014 12:47pm
Nineteenth
Another great review, well done. I will sure give it a watch.
Mar 9, 2014 1:33am
egdcltd
Thanks!
Mar 8, 2014 3:26pm
BoomerBill
Thanks, I'll have to check this out.
Mar 9, 2014 1:34am
egdcltd
I think I'd probably prefer the factual book personally.
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Bibliography

  1. "Historian at the Movies: The Monuments Men reviewed ." History Extra. 26/02/2014 <Web >
  2. "Nazi trove in Munich contains unknown works by masters." BBC. 26/02/2014 <Web >

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