The Monuments Men: a movie review

George Clooney;Matt Damon;John Goodman;Bob Balaban

The Monuments Men, based on a 2009 book of the same name by Robert Edsel, tells of a small group of mostly middle aged men who risked their lives to recover thousands of looted works of art from the retreating Nazis in the final days of WWII.

George Clooney co-wrote, directed, and starred in the film.  A Washington Post review suggests why the project mattered to Clooney, saying the movie “continues his long-standing — even heroic — effort to preserve a certain kind of movie in the American filmmaking canon…the classical, even old-fashioned kind of film that, we’re so often depressingly reminded, Hollywood doesn’t make anymore.”

If you’re like me, that means movies that center on story and even dare to depict personal heroism.  Explosions and digital effects, if present, are subordinate elements.

The Monuments Men has not fared well with reviewers.  In an obvious comparison to Saving Private Ryan, another quest/buddy movie set in WWII, The Monument Men lacks tension at many points.  The Post review gives a plausible analysis of the structural cause of a lack of focus in the central part of the movie, that resolves in the ending sequence where the team races to save several key artistic treasures from destruction by the Nazis and capture by the advancing Russian army.

Whatever its flaws, I enjoyed The Monuments Men and recommend it as a good story that poses key questions on the way a people’s art and history is central to their identity, something Hitler knew very well when he tried to erase it from the lands he conquered.

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