War movies. There are literally hundreds of them. Sands of Iwo Jima, Platoon, The Bridge on the River Kwai, Full Metal Jacket, The Deer Hunter, Apocalypse Now … to name only a handful. And, if I can share a little secret, I’ve seen about none of them. They don’t appeal to me. Too bloody, too grisly, too real.
So when my friends at Grace Hill Media asked me to screen and review a movie called The Monuments Men, I was a bit concerned. Would I like it? Would I appreciate it? And (gulp) would I even get it?
Okay, fine. Maybe I’m being a little hard on myself. Because I attended the screening this week and I did like and appreciate it. And I totally got it. Probably more than many people did back when this “based-on-a-true-story” situation was actually happening. Take a look at the trailer to help get you up to speed.
A pet project of George Clooney (who wrote, directed, produced and acted in the film), The Monuments Men chronicles the noble and most unprecedented mission of a small platoon of very unlikely heroes. These middle-aged men, a small group of artists, architects, and historians, all volunteered to enlist, endure basic training and travel all the way to Nazi-occupied Europe for the sole purpose of protecting and preserving Western art and culture.
Famous paintings and sculpture, historical architecture, even such artifacts as the original manuscript of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 were all on the rescue list. It was Hitler’s plan to possess or destroy all of it. To rob the world of its beauty and its creative expression. These men were the ones who stopped him.
“If you destroy an entire generation of people’s culture, it’s as if they never existed.” - Frank Stokes (as played by George Clooney)
The cast list was impressive. George Clooney, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, John Goodman, Hugh Bonneville, Bill Murray … seriously, how much more time do I have here? Oh, and speaking of Bill Murray, he and Bob Balaban (an accomplished actor whom I most associate with old Seinfeld episodes) made a great pair. They had a sweet chemistry and shared a moment involving a Christmas carol that, for me, was one of the most touching of the film’s 118 minutes. Just as with other comic actors like Robin Williams and Jim Carrey, I always love when I see Murray in a more serious, meatier role. Groundhog Day is fine, but it’s in these more cerebral projects that he really shines and shows his chops. (Perhaps I should call his agent.)
The most amazing (and, let’s be honest, embarrassing) thing about the movie is that I didn’t know anything about the history behind it. Which is sort of the point of this film. It’s a seventy-year-old story that has never been told.* (How many movies can make that claim these days?) And I left the theater compelled to look up these brave individuals. I wanted to know more about them. I was curious about which pieces were saved. And which were not.
I wish I could thank them for their contribution.
The Monuments Men. It just opened in theaters. I’d take my parents to see it. And I’d take my kids to see it. Despite its protective PG-13 rating. (And you guys know I NEVER say that.)
*AUTHOR’S NOTE: As soon as I hit “publish,” my cinephilic (that means movie-loving) friend Michael (who I so should have consulted first) reminded me about a 1964 film by John Frankenheimer entitled The Train featuring Burt Lancaster. It deals with the same subject in a very different manner. So I’ll revise my review to say “it’s a seventy year old story that hasn’t been told … recently.”
Still pretty impressive when you consider how many movies they made about the Titanic.