monuments men

The Monuments Men brings together an all-star ensemble and marks George Clooney‘s fifth turn at directing. It’s a fictionalized adaptation of the book about the real life group who went behind enemy lines to rescue world renown art during World War II. It’s a story of those who put their lives at risk to preserve the culture of the human race represented by the works of masters.

The Players:

  • Director: George Clooney
  • Writers: George Clooney and Grant Heslov (Screenplay) Robert M. Edsel and Bret Witter (Book)
  • Starring: Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, Bob Balaban, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Dimitri Leonaidas, Hugh Bonneville, Matt Damon
  • Music: Alexandre Desplat
  • Cinematography: Phedon Papamichael

The Plot:

Frank Stokes (Clooney) convinces the President of the United States to allow the Allies a platoon of seven museum directors, curators and art historians to specifically save art plundered by the Nazi’s. They enter Germany behind enemy lines and scour ruins to retrieve art by the greats that have been taken for Hitler’s own private collection or lost in the frays of war.

The Good:

  • The Story: The film raises a good question: Is art worth dying for? Utilizing the story of the brave men who risked their lives to take back vital pieces to the history of mankind, The Monuments Men reveals that a painting or sculpture is more than just art. It presents how Rembrandt’s, Da Vinci’s and Picasso’s are the marks of civilization’s progress. While the film’s a dramatic comedy, at its heart it shows how easily humanity’s culture could have been a casualty of war as well.
  • The Ensemble: The chemistry was electric. The cast tells this story humorously, while coping with the circumstances and not exploiting the events around them. Balaban/Murray and Goodman/Dujardin delivered earnest comedy while also bringing solemnity to their dramatic performances in key scenes.
  • The Art: The art and sculptures in the film looked like the real thing. So when a piece was at risk or when a Picasso was burned you felt the devastation of when that really happened. The various pieces were weathered to look as if they had existed for ages and that’s art in and of itself.
  • Cinematography: The shots were gorgeously composed. From the war scenes to the museum scenes, every moving image captured the visual intensity of what was happening in the surroundings. In particular, the Christmas scene with Murray and Balaban will be remembered as one of the film’s stand-outs. It really captures the raw emotion of that time in our history. Another notable shot is the elevator ride the Monuments Men take after they find a barrel filled with the gold fillings of Holocaust victims. You can see the gravity of impact the war has had on individuals and the world.

The So-So:

  • Tangled Web: The movie suffered from lack of cohesiveness. Each pair of characters had compelling stories that brushed at the surface of their journeys. There were moments in each storyline that showed pivotal points the movie was trying to make but jumping from story to story made it feel out of focus.
  • Underused actors: There needed to be more Blanchett and Dujardin. Blanchett had great moments as a curator who knew where the Nazi’s took the art but she just functioned as a point with a great motivation to withhold the information. Dujardin had very few lines and while he stole his scenes with his charm, his lack of dialogue didn’t help him depart from The Artist’s silent star role. It was great to showcase his expressiveness but it would have been better to hear the man speak.


The Monuments Men excels at balancing drama and comedy but not multiple character arcs. Despite being all over the place at times, the story will speak to you. It shines in the strongest moments due to fantastic performances by the cast.

The Rating: 8/10

The Monuments Men opens in theaters February 7.

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Will you be watching The Monuments Men this weekend?