Elsewhere Review: The Monuments Men

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Movie Review: The Monuments Men

February 7, 2014 by  Leave a Comment (Edit)

Longing for the fun, fascinating WWII films of the 1950s and 60s?  Think that they’ll never make stuff like The Great Escape, Kelly’s Heroes, Bridge on the River Kwai or The Dirty Dozen — movies that are a beautiful blend of comedy and tragedy, that paint the Great War in realistic but cineplex palatable hues — ever again?

Well, look no further than The Monuments Men.  George Clooney takes the true story of  the real-life soldiers tasked with recovering some of the most important art works of the world from the Nazis as WWII was beginning to wind down, and makes it feel as gripping and heart-tugging as I’m sure the real story truly was.  Based on the book The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert M. Edsel, this film manages to entertain, educate and fit right in with those “madcap WWII caper” films we’ve come to know and love.


How?  By doing one thing and doing it well; in the director’s chair Clooney manages to keep the focus on the task at hand (the recovery of stolen artworks) while grouping the men together as a unit.  This ensemble plays better than trying to thrust one or two characters into the light, and I give Clooney mad props for not taking the lion’s share of the Kleig lights for himself.  (Not all directors that cast themselves in film can say the same.)  Clooney also did a great job casting this motley crew, with the seemingly higglety-pigglety group of A-list stars, Oscar winners and respected character actors all coming together with a believable, enjoyable chemistry.  Of course Clooney, Damon and Murray — all part of the Men — as well as Cate Blanchett (as possible Nazi collaborator — or is it resistance fighter? — Claire Simone) do brilliant work.  But I really enjoyed John Goodman, Jean Dujardin (Oscar winner for The Artist), Hugh “Downton Abbey” Bonneville and the absolutely divine Bob Balaban (Moonrise Kingdom, Best in Show) as fellow Men that are, shall we say, all flawed in their own way.  Knowing exactly how much personal backstory to deliver, and how to deliver it, Clooney (wearing the screenwriters cap) nailed these characters, and the actors bring them to life superbly.

Another way that The Monuments Men managed to blow me away was with the use of cinematography, production design and music that echoes classic WWII films.  You see that hypersaturated color onscreen, check out the dusty but still spit-shined soldiers, and hear that jaunty music?  Yeah baby.  A big tip of the hat goes to Academy-Award nominated composer Alexandre Desplat for his score, though he’s had plenty of other opportunities to fine-tune his ability to tap into period pieces, with his work on Argo and The King’s Speech.  (He’s been nominated for this year’s Oscars for his work on Philomena, btw.)

And okay, alright; it was damn nice to see Bill Murray in uniform again.  But my absolute favorite bit of casting comes at the very end of the film, when George Clooney’s father Nick Clooney (and if you didn’t love him on AMC I don’t wanna know you) plays the older version of George’s soldier Stokes.  It’s a really lovely way to end a really lovely film.

About Denise

Professional nerd. Lover of licorice.
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