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Movies Seen in 2014: THE MONUMENTS MEN

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

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The Monuments Men
US Release Date: February 7, 2014
Starring: George Clooney (who also directed), Matt Damon, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Hugh Bonneville, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, Dimitri Leonidas, and Cate Blanchett.
Run Time: 118 minutes
Rating (U.S.): PG-13 (“for some images of war violence and historical smoking”)

Viewing Experience: at the theater
Viewing Date: February 8, 2014
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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I’m nowhere near as good a reviewer as my dear friend Ruth, but since I need blog content—and since I made such a big deal back at the beginning of the year about all the movies I want to see this year—here goes.

The Monuments Men opens with art—the Ghent Altarpiece, to be specific—being hastily taken apart, packed up, and spirited away by the priests who are trying to protect it from Hitler’s forces, bearing down on the city. Then, we get an explanation . . . a lecture, of sorts, with George Clooney’s character, Frank Stokes, explaining to the president his idea behind forming the American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in War Areas. (In reality, scholars, curators, and preservationists had been working since the 1930s on identifying and trying to protect art from the Nazis. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until 1944/45 that Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Section, comprising approximately 345 members from 13 countries, was commissioned and sent out to do something about it officially.)

So then we go into a montage which has Stokes going around New York (?—I don’t think he went anywhere else) collecting his team: a curator at the Met, an architect, a theater producer (?), a sculptor, etc. Once they arrive in England (supposedly for Basic Training, but we only see one quick scene attesting to it), our team is also joined by an Englishman (Hugh Bonneville, wearing what looked like the same uniform he wore in Season 2 of Downton Abbey) and a Frenchman (Jean Dujardin, Academy Award winning Best Actor for The Artist). They also pick up Sam Epstein (Dimitri Leonidas), “from New Jersey”—a displaced German Jew whose family fled their small town in Germany and landed in New Jersey before the war. Now our team is complete.

So, of course, the first thing that happens is the splintering of the group. Two-by-two (sort of), they are sent out to try to track down where Hitler/the Nazis, on the run from the Allied forces, are hiding/taking the art they’ve stolen. Clooney and the script writers did something very important here: They gave us three very specific pieces of art to really focus on and come to care about: the Ghent Altarpiece (Hubert van Eyck), Madonna and Child (or Madonna of Bruges) by Michelangelo, and a self-portrait of Rembrandt, which had been stolen from the museum in Sam’s hometown.

I loved that even with this large of an ensemble cast, none of the characters felt unnecessary or useless. Each had a moment to shine and the relationship building between them was wonderful—it truly felt as if these men did know each other. That’s either a strength of the caliber of actors cast in this film or the fact that they may know each other well off screen—either way, it worked.

Many reviewers didn’t like this film, thinking it didn’t pay proper tribute to this heretofore little known piece of history. But I thoroughly enjoyed it, as, for me, it provided an accessible entry into a facet of WWII history that I hadn’t known anything about before seeing the film. I’m not a WWII buff, nor am I a huge fan of literature/film that focuses on it. What I am a fan of is good storytelling based on a solid plot (history, in this instance) with compelling characters. And that’s where this movie shines for me.

I made this comment on a Facebook discussion about this movie:

It reminded me a lot of the 1990 movie MEMPHIS BELLE. A lot of that is because of the ensemble group, though here you have George Clooney leading this motley crew rather than Matthew Modine. … To me, it’s [not a “caper film” but] more of an adventure (with a little action) film that looks at a serious time and serious events in history with a light-handed script which takes a lighthearted look at this through the camaraderie of the men involved, but which also adopts a more serious tone when appropriate. It’s definitely not SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. Yet there were still times in MM when I found myself getting choked up. Especially in a couple of scenes with Hugh Bonneville and Jean Dujardin and again toward the end.

While the music was a little heavy-handed in places (“You should be feeling *this* now!”), I thought the humor and gravitas were perfectly balanced.

In the same thread, I also mentioned that the balance of humor and drama reminded me of M*A*S*H.

I was also extremely happy with the way the one possible romantic entanglement in the film was handled. With only one (main) female character in the film, and with hers being a smaller, supporting role, it would have been easy for the script to have taken the relationship in a certain direction. After all, “It’s Paris,” as she remarks. And we all know that Paris is the city of romance. It was a delicate situation, and I truly appreciated the way it was handled.

Highly enjoyable. Highly recommended.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Wednesday, February 12, 2014 9:54 am

    I was looking forward to the movie until my husband read the reviews. He discouraged me from going to see it but from what I read of your review, I feel like taking a chance on it. Thank you for posting this review. I feel like it was meant for me!

    Like

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