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The Monuments Men

06 Dec

It’s wartime 1944 and signs of weakness are appearing in the Germans’ stronghold across Europe. The German Armies start to retreat east, back to their homeland – but they don’t leave things as they’ve found them. Their Führer, Adolf Hitler, a lover of fine art, has ordered that all art treasures (mostly paintings and sculptures) across Europe be collected from the churches and galleries in France and Belgium and brought to him in Linz, for his own personal collection and exhibition. His orders are carried out and those pieces that the Germans can’t take with them, they destroy in their wake, leaving a trail of empty halls and wreckage behind them. At the same time, art expert Frank Stokes (played by George Clooney) initiates an operation to find and retrieve as much of the art as he can. He forms a special squad of experts – art restorer James Granger (by Matt Damon), architect Richard Campbell (by Bill Murray) art teacher Jean-Claude Clermont (by Jean Dujardin), sculptor Walter Garfield (by John Goodman), British art expert Donald Jeffries (by Hugh Bonneville) and Preston Savitz (by Bob Balaban). Stokes has worked with all these men before and, although none are in active military service and they’re all out of shape, he knows this is the best team to get the job done. They must get to the front line and rescue the priceless art pieces before the Germans destroy them as they leave or the Russians steal them when they arrive. Quite straightforward really …

I enjoyed this movie. It’s sort of a Boy’s Own wartime jaunt through Europe, crossed with an Indiana Jones style search for art icons that dodges the inevitable Germans, features wartime exploits and is punctuated by strong mateship during combat. A meaningful piece it isn’t, but an enjoyable movie it is. None of the action scenes are believable, but overall the story is there. I’m not really sure what the “cold as ice” French Museum Curator, Claire Simone (played by Cate Blanchett) adds to the story, except perhaps to provide a source for one or two clues in the search and I guess as a token female character, but she plays the role well and does look great in the forties French fashion. The ensemble cast are very entertaining and the script is delectable – I love the way Clooney bounces off Matt Damon in this – as in several movies they’ve done together (obvious examples are “Ocean’s Eleven” and “Ocean’s Twelve”) and of course both Bill Murray and John Goodman are masters at this. It’s refreshing and entertaining to see Hugh Bonneville here, in a role other than his recent efforts as Lord Grantham in television’s “Downton Abbey”, which may well have typecast him. The movie does make some important points about the value of life compared to art, the deep respect and honour amongst soldiers and the futile wastefulness of war.  Even though George Clooney has directed much better movies than this one, it was awarded the 2014 Heartland Film “Truly Moving Picture” award.

Made in 2014. Directed by George Clooney.

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Posted by on December 6, 2014 in Movies

 

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