Set towards the latter end of the Second World War, Clooney plays Frank Stokes, who is tasked by President Roosevelt to form a platoon of ageing art historians and collectors, to head off to Europe and identify – and then capture – extremely renowned and valuable pieces of art that the Nazis have stolen. Stokes manages to persuade the likes of James Granger (Matt Damon), Richard Campbell (Bill Murray), Walter Garfield (John Goodman) and Preston Savitz (Bob Balaban) to assist him, while handpicking both Donald Jeffries (Hugh Bonneville) and Jean Claude Clermont (Jean Dujardin), from England and France, respectively, to complete his mismatched team. Given the artwork is behind enemy lines, the collective are aware that their mission may require combat as well as their innate intelligence and tactical nous, as they risk their lives to preserve come of the most important cultural artefacts of all time.
The Monuments Men seems so preoccupied with making a point of how heroic these men were and what a fine deed they’re doing to humanity, that we inadvertently disregard several other intriguing aspects to the concept. Of course you can’t deny how admirable an achievement it was for this unlikely group to reclaim such important paintings and statues, yet the broader picture isn’t explored at all. Why is it so important for these men to risk their lives for art? What would a world without this art be like? Instead we’re just treated to an unbearably patriotic offering, which seems to take a lot of self-satisfaction from the fact that not only did the Americans help win the war, but also managed to save all of the art too. You know, there are only so many shots of the US flag flapping gracefully in the breeze that we can be subjected to in a movie.
Though elementary and out of place in most parts, some of the humour will provoke the odd chuckle or too, as the picture has a classic feeling to it of sorts, capturing that satire and essence of Punch Magazine’s war cartoons, for example. Clooney is also as charming as ever, and his role in the film is similar to that of a director, as the way he rounds up the troops and dictates the entire operation from a position of authority, seems somewhat illustrative of this notion. A mention must also go to Cate Blanchett, perfecting her French accent as curator Claire Simone, though her character is devalued entirely when she very peculiarly refuses to deal with the Americans, and also when she enters in to such a superfluous romance with Damon’s Granger.
The message to this title is a profound one, to preserve art – and be willing to fight to keep it from falling into Hitler’s hands, or being destroyed altogether – and it’s one that should resonate with cinephiles too, in how we value culture in general. That being said, if The Monuments Men was in danger of extinction, it would take some convincing to risk your life to save it.