Running Time: 1 hour 58 minutes
As Hitler was rampaging across Europe, he systematically looted museums, churches and people’s home to amass a cache of stolen art. Aside from the obvious monetary value of the art is an incalculable cultural and emotional value to the people who are being slowly crushed beneath the Nazi’s bootheels. In order to recover and preserve these priceless works, the US Government has put together an unusual platoon of middle aged art experts to embark on the greatest treasure hunt in history. While trying to avoid danger as they travel through combat zones, they realize they are also racing against the clock when it is revealed that Hitler has put in place a plan to destroy all the art if either he falls or Germany loses the war.
When looking at the pieces of this film, from the cast to the incredible art to the amazing true story, it is hard not to enter the theatre with very high expectations. Sadly, The Monuments Men is much less than the sum of its parts, due mainly to the script which was co-written by George Clooney and Grant Heslov. The characters are underdeveloped and to be quite frank, not much happens. There is an awful lot of screen time spent with people standing around maps and ruminating about where the Nazis could have taken the art, or with people waxing poetic about the importance of art. George Clooney, John Goodman, Bill Murray, Matt Damon, Bob Balaban and Cate Blanchett all look great in their period costumes and they have a naturally warm rapport that is squandered by the fact that the cast spends so much of the movie split up.
Where The Monuments Men succeeds is in its reverential treatment of the magnificent paintings and sculptures that are rescued from destruction. Two of the featured pieces are “The Madonna and Child” sculpture by Michelangelo and the Ghent Altarpiece. I was unfamiliar with these works but they have become almost indelible in my mind since seeing this movie. The camera seems to caress these masterpieces and it is easy to understand why men would die to protect them. This is where the movie truly shines and Clooney’s direction is as much a plus as his writing is a minus. C+