‘The Monuments Men’ Review

By Julia Ricci

It has been a while since the world has seen a war film without somberly leaving the theater. Enter George Clooney’s The Monuments Men, a film that hearkens back to classic war movies like The Great EscapeThe Dirty Dozen, and the patriotic morale boosters of the early 1940s, proving Hollywood can still make ’em like they used to.

      The film is the Sparknotes version of Robert Edsel’s book of the same name, which tells the true story of a group of middle-aged museum curators, architects, and art experts who are called upon to protect and recover art Hitler and the Nazis had stolen. Time begins to run out quickly when Hitler issues the Nero Decree stating that the art was to be destroyed if he were to be killed or if Germany fell. The men’s (and women’s) biggest challenge, however, is making a moral case for a mission to save works of art when thousands of people had already lost their lives.

Despite the gorgeously realistic production design and location shots, a spirited score by Alexandre Desplat, and an all-star cast (Clooney, Matt Damon, Bob Balaban, John Goodman, Bill Murray, Hugh Bonneville, Jean Dujardin, and Cate Blanchett), the screenplay is weak–especially the dialogue, which is used as a cut-rate way to explain what’s happening. There’s also a failed attempt at a romance between Damon’s character and Blanchett, who plays a secretary at a French museum from where much of the art was stolen. Their characters’ business relationship is fine, but the awkward flirtiness is completely unnecessary.

Nevertheless, The Monuments Men has plenty of charm and poignancy. The “forming the team” montage at the beginning is a short and sweet way to introduce each character. Likewise, the delightful duo of Bill Murray and Bob Balaban create the best comic scenes, but a particularly heartbreaking sequence gives them the chance to show off their dramatic prowess. There’s also a delicately haunting scene in which the Monuments Men discover barrels full of wedding rings and tiny misshapen bits of gold, then ride a lift and silently reflect on what they have just seen.

Although The Monuments Men has its moments, Clooney and company made the right decision to push back the release date; it would have been lost in the holiday and awards season shuffle. Still, it manages to spark an interest in a fascinating story in history and be big-scale entertainment. As for the film’s future, the fact that it’s enjoyable without being too heavy will help it find a home in junior high and high school history classrooms and Fourth of July marathons on cable.