“The Monuments Men” hits theaters today. Directed by George Clooney and written by Clooney and Grant Heslov, the historical film stars Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban, Hugh Bonneville, and Cate Blanchett.
“The Monuments Men” was one of the many 2013 films I was excited to see. It was a disappointment when I found it its release had been delayed. Luckily it was only for a few months, because “The Monuments Men” has finally arrived. I will say I had decently high expectations, going so far as to believing the film could be Oscar worthy. But after viewing “The Monuments Men,” I have to admit that my expectations were a tad too high. The “Monuments Men” never quite hit the Oscar worthy mark, but that’s not exactly a bad thing. Instead of giving into the whole Oscar bait craze, Clooney decided to make his own movie centered on the actual events of The Monuments Men and while it is flawed, it is still a good time.
Obviously taking place during World War II, Frank Stokes (Clooney) is tasked with bringing a group of art scholars, architects, and collectors together to find and recover art that has been stolen by the Germans. This group consisted of Met curator James Granger (Damon), architect Richard Campbell (Murray), sculptor Walter Garfield (Goodman), art dealer Jean Claude Clermont (Dujardin), art expert Donald Jeffries (Bonneville), historian Preston Savits (Balaban), and translator Sam Epstein (Dimitri Leonidas). Each individual goes into this mission for their own personal reasons, but they have the same goal: to recover and retrieve the art as quickly as possible before the war is over or Hitler is killed.
For a good portion of the film, these individuals are split up. Granger finds himself in France looking for Claire Simone (Blanchett) who is a Resistance Fighter who worked as a secretary for Hermann Goering (Udo Kroschwald). Donald Jeffries heads out to Bruges to find the Madonna of Bruges and to make sure it’s still there. Out on the road together we have Campbell and Preston, Walter and Jean Claude, and Donald Jeffries checking different areas of Germany and following up on leads. Stokes and Epstein stay behind at camps to map out possible locations where any pieces of art could be. For a while this seems like an impossible mission since Germany is not a small country. Unfortunately, they’re not alone in the hunt for art. The Russians are also looking for art coming in from the East, but they have no intentions of returning what was stolen. Instead, the Russians plan on keeping the art themselves, so it’s not just a race against time with the war, but a race against the Russians to get there first.
I’ll admit, I got worried when I heard why Monuments Men had been postponed, the reason being due to Clooney’s uncertainty about the tone of the film. It’s an understandable reason with a film centered around the death and destruction that occurred during World War II. Yet, even with the delay, it seems like Clooney still wasn’t 100% certain what type of film he was going for. There’s no denying the film had a lot of charm and heart as well as death and tragedy, but it seemed like it was one or the other. Clooney was unable to strike a balance between the two and it really took away from the experience of the movie.
That being said, an average George Clooney film is still better than most directors’ best film. With actors like Damon, Goodman, Dujardin, Bonneville, Murray, and Balaban (who easily stole the movie), of course there’s gonna be some solid performances. Include Blanchett into the mix as well and Clooney has provided a cast any director would love to work with. Each one brought their own personalities to their roles making these characters feel authentic and weary in a time of war. There are two scenes in particular that stand out that are performed brilliantly and brought a tear or two to my eyes.
If you’re looking for a movie that could have been the best of 2013 or the best of 2014, you better leave those expectations are the door. If you’re looking for an enjoyable two hours with actors (and one actress!) that you most likely love and adore, “The Monuments Men” is a movie for you. Whether it be a liking for Clooney, Damon, Goodman, Murray, or Blanchett, “The Monuments Men” has a little bit of something for everyone. There’s joy, there’s sorrow, there’s life, there’s death, but most of all there’s the American spirit felt within each frame of The Monuments Men.
Credit: Joshua Kaye