The Monuments Men is based upon a true story by Robert M Edsel and documents the efforts of a team of art experts who seek to recover art treasures stolen by the German military during World War Two.
The film features an all star cast with George Clooney in the lead supported by Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Hugh Bonneville, John Goodman, Bob Balaban and Jean Dujaron. Clooney also directed the film. While the original team undoubtedly lacked the Hollywood flair for glamour and style as portrayed in the film, the cast does reflect the non-military background of the team members, all of whom in civilian life were art experts in various fields. In many ways, the team resembles a ‘Dad’s Army’ in both appearance and behaviour. The lack of military background of team members operating at or near the frontline battle zone provides the basis for some amusing and decidedly irregular dialogue and scenarios. As dangers and pressures increase, artistic temperaments frequently surface expressed through petulance and the interplay of sensitive and threatened egos.
Despite their personal misgivings for one another and the ongoing dangers, the team shares and believes in the common goal of their mission; to save as many treasures as possible from enemy hands and is reflected in the line; ‘Hitler tried to take what was never his; the story of our lives painted on canvas or etched in stone.’
Hitler’s rapacious desire to gather the finest art collection in the world and display this within the proposed Fuhrer Museum in Linz, Austria led to art theft on an unprecedented scale. An entire unit of art experts within the German Army was dedicated to the task of fulfilling this ambition. During the closing phases of the war when the defeat of Germany became inevitable, the scale of theft increased exponentially. Hitler had issued specific orders that stolen art works in danger of falling to the Allies should be destroyed and indeed many fine works met such a fate. The film highlights the rising tension associated with the the looming German defeat and the limited time available to find the treasures before they are destroyed. As the window of opportunity narrows the risks to the The Monuments Men rise as they are exposed to ever increasing danger. A line from Clooney embodies the quest of the team. ‘Some say this mission was never designed to succeed. They’re wrong. We’re fighting for a culture, a way of life. You can wipe out a generation of people, burn their homes to the ground and somehow they’ll come back, but if you destroy their history, it will be like they never existed. Just ash floating.’
The direction is at times rather laborious, the pace often slow and the film lacks real tension at critical moments. Despite this,The Monuments Men is an enjoyable film primarily because it reflects actual events for a most worthy cause. Without the efforts of the Monuments Men, the world today would indeed be a poorer place.
The Monuments Men was produced in 2014 and is now available on DVD.
Running time: 118 minutes.