Unsung heroes exist throughout history, whose achievements not only merit notice, but in this case a film. George Clooney’s The Monuments Men gives us the story of a group of courageous who were willing to sacrifice their lives so that we could enjoy many of the artistic masterpieces we see in museums today.
Its near the end of World War 2, and the Nazi soldiers are in retreat mode around Europe. This had not stopped Hitler’s egomania and his plans to open a large museum for where he would place all the artwork he had stolen during his invasion. A team of 6 men (Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban, Hugh Bonneville), led by Fred Stokes (George Clooney), were sent with the Allied forces to rescue and return the plundered art from Hitler’s forces. Hitler, sensing the end was near, ordered his soldiers who were guarding the art to destroy it if he should fall from power. The war is coming to a close and Hitler is all but defeated, so these men must race against the clock to find and save as much of our cultural history as they can by finding the stashes of artwork. With the help of Claire Simone (Cate Blanchett), a French curator, will the be able to get it all in time? And how far will they be willing to go just to save some art?
All those questions can easily be answered with a quick Wikipedia search, but that doesn’t make the story it is based on any less heroic. What is also heroic is director/screenplay writer/producer/actor George Clooney’s attempt to paint a portrait of these men who were willing to sacrifice everything just so that we could keep our history. The pace of the film and its tone are presented as more of a dichotomous gradient, jumping from one extreme to the other, but never really reaching either. Likewise, the serious subject matter of war and loss of life is only really utilized for Clooney to grandstand various different inspirational speeches.
The characters come through decently, being defined and given life through the great cast of actors. The cast is set up like the group of Ocean’s Eleven, and while you can see opaque glimpses of humor, you are never really taken there. Even with all the exaltion Clooney built into the film, it lacks a certain joie de vivre that it needs to set it apart from every other WWII film. This cast of naturally charismatic and comedic actors could have easily given this film a brighter, more interesting hue instead of the grey blandness it had. Instead of going for the full on laughter and excitement of, oh, let’s say Tarantino’s completely fictional Inglorious Basterds, we are left with a story that is trying too hard to balance deep reverence and casual comedy and not getting either correct.
The Monuments Men serves as a reminder that no matter how many times we hear stories about WWII, there are always other heroes we don’t know about. In this case, it involves a group of art buffs who risked their lives so that we could glimpse at precious artifacts from our history. With that in mind, I would still would have found a History Channel special on this topic more refreshing, and cohesive, than Clooney’s work.
RATING: ★★★★(4/10 stars)
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