Monuments men save the day in this informative and heartwarming movie about men tasked to recover the art that Nazis stole during World War II. Based on real events, George Clooney directs, writes the screenplay and stars in the film as Frank Stokes, a lieutenant in the army. Clooney is in good company with Matt Damon playing James Granger, Bill Murray as Richard Campbell, John Goodman as Walter Garfield, Downton Abbey’s Hugh Bonneville as Donald Jeffries and Cate Blanchett as Claire, the curator of Jue de Paume art museum in Paris, France.
The motley crew starts out crossing Normandy beach after the U.S. has already landed and taken control during Operation Overlord. Clooney’s Stokes goes directly to Paris to question Claire about missing art in her museum and from Jewish homes that were ransacked by the Nazis as they moved the Jewish population to concentration camps across Europe. In one scene, Claire and Stokes look over a warehouse filled with art pieces and objets d’art. He asks her, “What is all this?” and Claire replies, “People’s lives.” Stokes presses his question and Claire lets him know that Nazis stole personal pieces from Jewish families.
During one search for the Madonna and Child in Bruges, Belgium, Lieutenant Jeffries, of the British army, is shot by a German officer overseeing the pilfering of the beautiful statue in a church. Jeffries has just written a letter to his father hoping that he has made him proud by coming to Germany to recover priceless art.
The monuments men, so-called because of their mission to find art and give it back to the original owners, save the day many times over, risking their lives in the end. When questioned about the importance of their task, Stokes and the others come to find that the art and other pieces represent humanity and therefore are worth human lives in the process of recovery.
The scenery is breathtaking against the terrible piles of rubble. Where churches and castles stood, German Nazis blew them to kingdom come – in some cases along with the art they held. Hitler personally wrote to those storing the art works to say that if he was killed or Germany lost the war, that they were to destroy the art, including Picasso’s, Cézanne, and Rembrandt’s paintings and Michelangelo’s statuary.
Stokes has a difficult time gaining Claire’s trust, but after two years she relents to tell what she knows about the hidden artifacts. At the same time, the men figure out where many of these works have been put away, and immediately start their rare treasure hunt.
The movie is a history lesson for the passion of those involved in the arts, and those who respect the original owners of these pieces. John Goodman and Bill Murray play architects in the service of the army, and they stand amazed at the cruel Nazi willingness to destroy so many landmark buildings to keep their stores away from any others than the Third Reich.
Blanchett’s character, Claire Simone, is based on the true French art historian, Rose Valland. Valland was a member of the French Resistance, and therefore was not too trusting of the American platoon attempting to find the art. She believes they may well keep the items as a war trove.
The Monuments Men is quite an adventure, as the soldiers save the day by saving thousands of pieces of art from being decimated. This star-studded cast is enjoyable to watch and they play their parts very well.
By Lisa M Pickering