The Monuments Men: Fighting for the culture – A Movie Review

George Clooney is nowadays focused on doing great movies, not only as an actor, but also as a director and producer. He brings us this time, The Monuments Men (2014), a narrative of how a special unit, formed by experienced allied architects, scholars, curators, and artists, saved the cultural heritage of Europe during World War II.

The Cultural Club

The characters ensemble is somewhat big in this movie. For that reason the narrative breaks from time to time to follow the path of the different Monuments Men going to and fro Europe, rescuing art, or at least trying to do it. George Clooney (Michael Clayton, Gravity) besides directing and producing, plays this time Lt. Frank Stokes, a defender of the culture with a hard task ahead of him: To convince the President of the United States that saving paintings, statues and buildings in the middle of the war zone worth their efforts. In order to achieve success, he must find an unusual motley crew capable of sacrificing their own lives for the protection of our Cultural Heritage. Matt Damon (Invictum, Elysium) is Lt. James Granger, a curator, whose mission is to go to Paris and gather vital information to trace back some of that stolen art. This is of course, not an easy task, specially when he meets Cate Blanchet (LotR series, Blue Jasmine) as Clair Simon, a very bitter collaborationist, who prefers to stay silent before telling anything. On the other side of the front lines, Bill Murray (Ghostbusters, Broken Flowers), portraying Sgt. Richard Campbell, and Bob Balaban (Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Capote) as Pvt. Preston Savitz, the former a successful architect and the latter a director, both from New York, work to find out what happened with the altar piece taken away by the Nazis from the Cathedral of Ghent. John Goodman (The Flintstones, Argo ) in the role of Sgt. Walter Garfield, and Jean Dujardin (The Artist, The Wolf of Wall Street) as Lt. Jean Claude Clermont, try to survive amongst the enemy lines in Europe, looking for the missing art. On the British side we have Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey, Doctor Who), performing as Lt. Donald Jeffries, a diminished academic with a heavy drinking problem, showing us a character, who tries hard to find his lost self esteem through this mission.

The acting in this movie is good without being outstanding. The actors are so many in this film that they are described superficially in the script, while they are followed in different story arcs throughout the movie. The story is rather simple, but it feels overcomplicated sometimes, not because it follows too many threads, but because they are not that coherent as we would have expected. Some aspects in the editing are not well polished, giving to the viewer some hard time. The story itself is narrated from the soldiers' standpoint, and their personal issues, not only with the mission, but also with their own life. But unfortunately, this is not well developed in the script. However, it is worth noting Bill Murray's, as well as Cate Blanchet's, and Hugh Bonneville's performance as three veteran actors, who really know their trade. Another great acting comes from Matt Damon and Jean Dujardin, developing interesting traits in their characters despite their lack of depth.

That doesn't mean the movie is boring, because it is not. On the contrary, at the end you will want to know more about this team that most people weren't aware they existed until they entered in theater. There is a detective story atmosphere in the film, making us to worry for the fate of the stolen art. And that is what it makes this movie really successful: It conveys a strong message even for our current-day society.

upload.wikimedia.org_wikipedia_commons_archive_0_0a_20140503135952_21bill_murray_2c_monuments_men_premiere.jpg
Bill Murray at the premiere. By Christopher William Adach CC BY-SA 2.0 1)

Truth stranger than Fiction

The movie was severely criticized, because some people deem it inaccurate to real life events. Sometimes various characters were merged into one, and even the names, and happenings of their original counterparts were changed. However, we must understand that movies are fictional depictions of the reality, but that doesn't make them invalid, or their arguments utterly false. Although the movie shows us the paths of more than eight characters, the real Monuments Men were a large group of men and women, who devoted their life to protect our World Culture Heritage during World War II. According to Robert M. Edsel's website, the book's author, in which the movie was based on, the Monuments Men was a unit constituted by 345 people.2) In there you can see a complete list of the people involved, and some of their biographies. So, imagine a two-hour film following every person that helped with the mission during the war. That maybe could be possible for a TV show, but not a movie. Thus, they sometimes have to take poetic licenses and adapt the story, to get the message through to the audience. But that doesn't make history less accurate, or less up-to-date. It's a retelling of factual events.

We have today modern heroes that preserves our World Cultural Heritage in war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan.3) However, and likewise in the movie, that is not always enough to preserve our heritage sites during armed conflicts around the world. Just taking a look of what is happening nowadays in Afghanistan, Libya, or Syria is disheartening.4) For that reason stronger efforts should be done, in order to keep all historical places around the globe safe. After all, Art and History is what defines us as humans. And that is the most important message of the movie to us in the twenty-first century. In that sense, the movie is a brave voice among people's conformation, who prefers to turn away, before facing the problem.

upload.wikimedia.org_wikipedia_commons_c_cf_madonna_of_bruges_altaussee_282_29.jpg
The real-life “Monuments Men”: Recovering the Madonna of Bruges. Altaussee salt mine (1945) 5)

Conclusion

The Monuments Men is more than an action movie about war, but it is very entertaining. The acting is good, although you will crave for more at the end, because at least for me, it wasn't really enough. Sometimes the movie seems to drift away from the script boringly, but fortunately that doesn't last. Besides that, the movie smartly put in perspective a problem that touch our most intimate human fibers, but certainly many try harder to avoid: What would happen, if all our World Heritage were gone? Who is going to prevent that?

If you like Blanchet, Clooney, Damon or Murray you won't get out of the theater disappointed. It really worths seeing it.

Disclaimer

Categorization

References:
1)
William Adach, Christopher (May 3rd 2014). Bill Murray at the Berlin International Film Festival premiere of The Monuments Men, February 8, 2014. (Uploaded by Flickr via Flickr2commons) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en)], undefined. Picture Available On-line in http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/archive/0/0a/20140503135952%21Bill_Murray%2C_Monuments_Men_premiere.jpg
2)
Edsel, Robert M. The Monuments Men Book Website. “The Heroes”. On-line in http://www.monumentsmen.com/the-monuments-men/monuments-men-roster
3)
Bacon, Lance M. (February 17th 2014. 6 a.m.). “U.S. troops saved art as the 'Monuments Men' of Iraq: U.S. experts work to save a culture”. Army Times. On-line in http://www.armytimes.com/article/20140217/NEWS/302170033/U-S-troops-saved-art-Monuments-Men-Iraq
4)
Sage, Alexandria. (August 29th 2013. 4:23 a.m.). “Syria's cultural heritage being looted, destroyed: UNESCO”. Reuters, Paris. On-line in http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/08/29/us-syria-crisis-unesco-idUSBRE97S15I20130829
5)
Unknown (1945). The Madonna of Bruges during recovery from the Altaussee salt mine, 1945. (Uploaded by Taranis-iuppiter) Public Domain. Picture Available On-line in http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/cf/Madonna_of_Bruges_Altaussee_%282%29.jpg

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