I usually don’t talk too much about movies on this blog, even though I’m a lover of film. In my internet surfing these last 24 hours, I’ve seen a lot of negative reviews for The Monuments Men and, frankly, I’m annoyed, so here I am to talk about this movie, which Tim and I went to see yesterday.
First of all, The Monuments Men is based on a US Army unit made up of men from academia and/or experts in their fields who were tasked with hunting down the art stolen by the Nazis during World War II. (Anyone who spends even a few minutes on my blog knows that this movie is right up my alley.) With a fantastic cast that includes George Clooney, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, John Goodman, Matt Damon, Hugh Bonneville, Jean Dujardin, and Cate Blanchett, and what promised to be beautiful cinematography (art, European WWII sites), I entered the theater with no expectations and came away very pleased.
This group of men, all older than those fighting on the front lines and most well past their prime, are faced with the daunting task of gathering intel, securing transportation and troops, and locating and saving stolen art that was hidden inside Germany. Along the way, they get their own taste of the war that was brutalizing its way across the European continent. They fought bureaucracy and struggled to find anything at all until they were finally able crack the secrets to where the Nazis were hiding these priceless works. During their mission, this small band of men even lost a couple of their own.
A lot of the negative reviews I’ve read centered around the lack of character development. Yes, there were a lot of unanswered questions. For me, those mostly centered around the much alluded to but seldom discussed past of Bonneville’s character, Donald Jeffries. The thing is that those lack of details didn’t detract from the story because the movie wasn’t about these men, per se. It wasn’t about how they came to be chosen or why their qualifications set them apart. It was about their efforts to preserve a culture and a way of life that the Nazis were hell-bent on destroying. And it showed, like in so many other war movies before it, that the pasts of the participants didn’t much matter. When men of all ages and backgrounds were thrown together on a different continent, thousands of miles from their homes and families, their pasts and their character and who they were before they arrived to fight Hitler ceased to matter. What mattered was that they looked out for one another, fought even when they wanted to give up, and banded together for a cause that, at times, was muddied with the blood of fallen friends. That’s where this movie beautifully executes a message – that humanity and camaraderie bloom not because of who you were then, but because of who you are in the moment – previously echoed in films such as Saving Private Ryan and mini-series such as Band of Brothers and The Pacific. These men weren’t storming Omaha beach and their actions in no way changed the course of the war, but they had a huge impact on the culture left in the world after the final bullets were shot and the last bombs fell.
The Monuments Men won’t appeal to a younger audience and it won’t be a blockbuster, but it’s a solid two hours of World War II history wrapped into a cinematographically beautiful package. My advice to anyone thinking about seeing it is to enter the theater with an open mind. Clear out those well-loved war movies from your brain and approach this film for what it is – smart, intelligent storytelling. There are so many facets from this fascinating time that have yet to be brought to light, and this film helps bring attention to yet one more piece. And considering that stolen works of art are still turning up every year, it’s more relevant than ever.