Monuments Men

When it was announced that George Clooney and Sony were moving their WWII film “The Monuments Men” to February, instead of its prime spot in December, the rumors swirled about what was wrong with the movie.

According to Clooney himself, those rumors were false. It was moved back to give the editors prime time to prepare the movie for release. Turns out, it was the right decision.

“The Monuments Men” is based on the true story of the unit formed during WWII to identify and help protect or retrieve the worlds’ priceless artifacts, such as Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child and the Ghent Altarpiece, which were stolen by Nazi forces. These art pieces were to be displayed in the unrealized “Fuhrermuseum.” Following the Allied forces advances, Hitler issued the Nero Decree, which ordered the destruction of bridges, buildings and artifacts of the Third Reich.

The Monuments Men is led by Frank Stokes (George Clooney), who recruits the young Met curator James Granger (Matt Damon), as well as Richard Campbell (Bill Murray), Walter Garfield(John Goodman), Jean-Claude Clermont (Jean Dujardin) of the French army, Preston Savitz (Bob Balaban) and Donald Jeffries (Hugh Bonneville) of the British army. Rorimer encountered Claire Simone in his research into the stolen artwork. She had spied on the Nazi’s while they used the Jeu de Paume Museum as a sorting house for the artwork. Vallard was responsible for the return of hundreds of pieces to their rightful owners.

“The Monuments Men” features an extraordinarily charismatic cast. Led by Clooney, the group deftly maneuvers through the war zones, entering Normandy and hitting barriers at every camp they enter.

Encountering tragedy, amidst a war, plays out on a smaller scale when focused on a smaller group. When it visits the group, the viewer feels the loss as sharply as the character. With such a tight knit group, each piece of it is just as important as the other.

Clooney and Damon, and even Murray, are old hats to the American audience. We love them every time we see them, and can depend on them to tell the story without the actors themselves being foremost. However, Dujardin and Bonneville don’t have to play keep up with this group, despite their unfamiliarity with audiences. Offering the foreign additions to the group reinforces the cooperation between the nations in preserving the world’s history.

The compelling story line moves quickly and keeps the viewer engaged. We have that tension in the search to fulfill a promise, in the race to beat the Nazi timeline, and finally to beat even an ally in time. The story of the Monuments Men is fascinating, and is, sadly, one of the aspects of the war that has been left on the sidelines of history.

“The Monuments Men” presents the question about finding and fighting for what is right, and preserving a culture hard won. It’s impassioned and simple in its message, and presented lovingly by the cast. “The Monuments Men” is an A-effort of a higher caliber in the midst of the first quarter graveyard. It is rated PG-13 for some historical smoking and war violence.

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