During World War II, the Nazis not only took countless lives, they pilfered a plethora of priceless art from the countries they invaded. Their actions could almost be considered the ultimate heist, and in The Monuments Men, George Clooney, as director, basically treats it as such, telling us in enjoyable but relatively weightless fashion about the men who went about retrieving it.
Clooney and his frequent writing/producing partner Grant Heslov (who cameos as an army doctor) loosely adapted the story from a book about the titular real-life group, and Clooney casts himself as a lieutenant who takes his case that Western artwork deserves be saved to FDR, who allows Clooney to hand-pick a squad to go to war-torn Europe and do just that.
The Nazis-stealing-art angle is definitely an interesting one, and one not often portrayed in film, aside from here and the excellent 1965 Burt Lancaster effort The Train. Generally when people think of WWII, it’s understandably about the millions of people who died, but the film reasonably argues that saving a country’s artwork is in effect saving its heritage.
Overall, the tone tends toward the lighter side, and Clooney (somewhat resembling Clark Gable) and his middle-to-old-age cohorts (Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Hugh Bonneville, Bob Balaban, Jean Dujardin) give smooth, likeable performances, even if their characters never feel fully developed. Their easy interaction is the main reason to see the film.
Cate Blanchett is easily another. The lone female among the cast, she shows up her male co-stars as a French curator initially forced to help the Nazis steal art and then asked by Damon to help get it back. She ably conveys the woman’s understandable trust issues, and does a beautiful job gradually dropping her guard as she and Damon develop a romance of sorts.
On a more serious note, Clooney doesn’t forget to remind us that Nazis were not exactly nice. They shoot people (not all of the team survives) and burn art and act superior. Never in a cartoonish, Indiana-Jones-movie way, mind you, but neither do they register as strongly as they should have. Kind of like the film—a solid endeavor, but one that settles merely in the middle of Clooney’s resume. – [DVD] [Blu-Ray]
DVD Release Date: 5/20/14