We’ve all seen George Clooney and Matt Damon in war movies before. If you read our Director Series post about George Clooney earlier this week, you’d know that the actor/director has a fondness for period films and historical drama. But Clooney and Damon’s latest film, The Monuments Men, isn’t quite like any WWII movie you’ve seen before. The film focuses on preservation; not just the preservation of life through the action-packed destruction of the enemy, but also the culture of the people that the Nazis conquered.
The Monuments Men is based on the book Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert M. Edsel. Edsel is also the founder and president of the Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art, a society dedicated to the real men and women who protected art works during the war. The film focuses on a unit of museum directors, curators and art historians that were already serving in WWII, but were commissioned for a different task near the war’s close. A renowned art lover and student, Hitler had ordered the seizure of the most important artworks whenever a territory was captured; both to exploit the people of that area, and to populate a museum in Austria. Since the Nazis occupied all or parts of Italy, the Netherlands, Greece, France, Denmark, Belgium and Austria, they had access to some of the most priceless and important works of art in the world.
Led by Lieutenants Frank Stokes (Clooney) and James Granger (Damon) these scholars tracked down these precious works, authenticated them, liberated them and preserved them until they could be returned to their rightful owners. However, it’s the liberation part that gives the Lieutenants trouble, as most of their squad is over the hill and not seasoned in combat. Brains and brawn combined forces to make sure that the Nazis could only weaken the national spirit of a country, and not destroy it forever.
While The Monuments Men is a unique and entertaining combination of Saving Private Ryan and How to Steal a Million, it’s the film’s talented cast and crew that give it such a punch. The screenwriting duo of Clooney and Grant Heslov have produced Good Night, and Good Luck, Leatherheads and The Ides of March, and has again found familiar territory in this historical drama. As in the aforementioned films, Clooney is in the director’s chair and put tremendous effort into giving the film an authentic look; filming at old airfields in England, using restored planes and coordinating massive battle scenes. And, of course, what better collection of actors could you get to play aged, nerdy scholars? Bill Murray, John Goodman and Bob Balaban make up the team of experts tracking down the artworks, and a more witty and talented group of actors you’d be hard pressed to find. There’s also great appearances by Cate Blanchett and Jean Dujardin; acclaimed actors supporting an already illustrious cast.