The Monuments Men

The Monuments Men was originally considered to be one of the leading Oscar contenders coming down the stretch in 2013, and why not?  A war movie based on a fascinating untold true story starring George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, and John Goodman: how could it not be a contender?   Needing more time for the special effects to be finished, however, director Clooney asked the studio to delay the film, which now gets released in February, generally considered to be the year’s slowest month at the box-office.  Now the question is not whether it will be nominated for Oscars, but whether it will be able to find an audience at all.

Clooney plays Frank Stokes, a professor who convinces President Roosevelt that someone needs to be sent in to prevent the Nazis from destroying thousands of years of art and culture in Europe.  With orders in hand, Stokes then goes about recruiting a team of architects, artists, and sculptors to travel to war-torn Europe, find where the Nazis are hiding the stolen art, and return it to its proper owners.

To accomplish their goal, they must recruit the help of a French museum curator who knows where the stolen art is hidden.  She is reluctant to help, however, as she does not know whether she can trust that these Americans are truly trying to help or whether they are seeking to steal the art for themselves.  The so-called Monuments Men must also deal with the horrors of war, even though they are coming in at the tail end it.  This leads Stokes to wonder whether any piece of art is worth a man’s life.

Clooney as Frank Stokes in The Monuments MenPerhaps it is just because the movie stars Clooney and Matt Damon, but The Monuments Men certainly feels like a cross between Ocean’s Eleven and Saving Private Ryan.  The brief opening sequence has Clooney and Damon recruiting their team much like Clooney and Brad Pitt did in Ocean’s and then this group of men risks their lives in pursuit works of art, two of which are given special attention; these are the Private Ryans of the movie.  It is a difficult balance to pull off and although it sometimes feels right, there are definitely moments when the movie sways too far in one direction or the other.

The cast is an impressive collection of talent.  In addition to the names mentioned above, the movie also features Oscar-winners Cate Blanchett and Jean Dujardin.  Although none of the actors deliver anything that would be considered among their best performances—Blanchett and Goodman probably stand out the most—there is not a weak link among them.  It’s nice to see that Clooney and Damon still have that chemistry that worked so well in the Ocean’s movies.

In the end, it is probably beneficial for The Monuments Men to have been moved back to February.  Whereas it probably would have gotten lost amongst the many better films that flooded the end of 2013, it has a chance to stand out in February.  The true story is a fascinating one and combining that with the talented cast, the movie should be able to find its audience.

The Monuments Men is rated PG-13 for “some images of war violence and historical smoking.”  There was some smoking and it did take place in the past, which I suppose makes it historical.  The war violence is present, but it is certainly not on the same level as most war movies these days.  The rating does seem to fit the film.

Courtesy of a local publicist, Jeff attended a promotional screening of The Monuments Men.