No one questions that Hitler and the Nazis were a bad bunch. The depth of Hitler’s greed is hard to dispute. It was not enough to take millions of lives, he wanted all the loot to boot, and if he couldn’t have it he was just as willing to keep it from the rest of the world.
The Monuments Men is based on the book, The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert M. Edsel, which is based and researched on actual events and an Allied group, the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program, which was set the task of recovering and returning artwork stolen by the Nazis.
It is easy to think of a handful of paintings, but the reality is that the Nazis stole, hid, and in many cases destroyed over five-million artifacts, paintings, statues, books, films, photos, and more. As Hitler began to lose the war, he dictated that what could not be kept should be destroyed. Wipe out a society’s artwork; their statements of life, and you wipe out the society for all of time.
It is important to remember this is a motion picture based on a book, based on actual events. There is without question some stretching, poetic license, and film making taking place. Nonetheless, always in the back of one’s mind is the knowledge that something like this did happen. Hitler’s depravity really hits home when the art historians come upon a cache’ hidden in a mine. Among the paintings and statues one of the soldiers finds two large barrels. One is filled with gold wedding rings. The other is filled with small gold nuggets – tooth fillings.
Despite the dark roots of this story, the movie is a comedic drama. But do not think of it in terms of Hogan’s Heros. It is comedic drama, not slap shtick. It focuses on seven individuals, too old and book-wormed to be fighting men, who have willingly put their lives on the front line of an active war in order to preserve history. There are moments worth audible chuckles. The overall tone is light, with poignant moments that remind us of the seriousness of war.
The cast falls into that cliche’ phrase, all-star. George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban, Hugh Bonneville, and Cate Blanchett. Everyone, even the supporting actors, do wonderful jobs. The main cast display real people holding their heads up and doing their odd but needed tasks. The plot is simple enough, though the telling was no easy task. The group does not march in together and march out together. They are divided, requiring the storytelling to leap from Paris, Normandy, Germany, and over a lot of Europe. Still, the film keeps you in touch with everyone’s part and portrays these converging efforts well.
The direction is good. It is a period piece, and feels as if it was shot within the time. It is good old fashion film making, relying on characters, and less on camera and effects. The sound direction is equally well done, lending a lighthearted tone to what could easily have become a very dark film.
I enjoyed The Monuments Men. One measure for a movie might be how long a movie feels. At one-hour and fifty-eight minutes, it did not feel like a long movie to me, so that says something.
It is worth the ticket. That said, it will be fine viewing on NetFlix or RedBox.