After reading Robert Edsel’s 600-something page “Monuments Men,” I was curious how the historical adaptation would take to the big screen. The movie was indeed a monumental task, which succeeds in some ways and fails in others.
World War II is coming to an end and Frank Stokes (George Clooney) is assigned to assemble a group of men to retrieve the art that the Nazi’s had stolen from Europe’s museums. Stokes hires seven men who are art curators and scholars: James Granger (Matt Damon), Richard Campbell (Bill Murray), Walter Garfield (John Goodman), Jean Claude Clermont (Jean Dujardin), Donald Jeffries (Hugh Bonneville), Preston Savitz (Bob Balaban), and Sam Epstein (Dimitri Leonidas). Considering that when all was said and done the Nazi’s had plundered one fifth of Europe’s art, so one can see what a monumental job these men had in front of them. They are sent to boot camp and then given a speech by Stokes which reminds the men that Hitler is trying to erase “our culture and way of life. The monuments men are then let loose in Normandy to scour the countryside for the ransacked art (the men were also sent to save buildings, tapestries, and any other historically significant items).
A delusional Hitler had planned to take the art and place it in a building called the Fuhrer Museum. After conquering the world, Hitler had intended to build a model city in Linz (Hitler’s hometown) based on Rome, which would be a 1000 year legacy in honor of his megalomania. Even as the allies approached Munich from the west and the Russian’s closed in from the east, Hitler sat in his office looking over his model city which he had built.
There are several key parts of the movie in discovering the art. One of them is when the men figure out that the Nazi’s where stashing the art in mines. In one salt mine in France they find some 40,000 crates of art and in another mine they find hundreds of gold bars and a barrel of gold teeth which horrifies them. Another key scene is when James Granger (Damon) befriends Claire Simon (Cate Blanchett), who worked under the Nazis at Paris’ Jeu De Paume museum. Simon secretly itemized much of the museums art and documented were it was sent. When she finally decides that she can trust Granger she turns over all the information and much of the art is tracked down. There are several key works such as the “Ghent Alterpiece” and Michelangelo’s “Madonna and Child” that dominate the pursuit, but thousands of the master’s works are recovered.
Obviously there are too many details from the book to be covered in a two hour movie, but I thought “Monuments Men” was well done. If you’re looking for an action movie this is not it; instead this is a historical account that very few people know about. Not only were these men saving culture, but they were also being shot at during their pursuits. I did find the movie to be a little slow at times, especially during the beginning, but I really don’t see any other way the story could have been set up. Anytime you can learn anything from a movie, you are doing well, so I highly recommend seeing “Monuments Men.” I also recommend reading the book by Robert Edsel from Dallas, Texas. (Rated PG13; 118 mins.)
My Rating: 4 of 5 Da Vinci’s