‘The Monuments Men’ Movie Review
History is written by the winners. This cliché saying is actually a pretty powerful concept because, as Americans, we often times get caught up with our own history. Even with something as universally impactful as World War II, Americans often think of America first. Part of what makes war such an interesting study is the widespread impact. One of the biggest problems facing The Monuments Men is that it preaches the importance of culture and art without being inclusive to other cultures.
Set during the waning years of World War II, George Clooney’s The Monuments Men sets out to tell the somewhat true story of a band of older art collectors, architects, and everyone in between that are desperately trying to recover stolen art before the end of the war. With an order to destroy the art if Germany falls, the men crisscross Europe finding hints and slowly getting closer and closer to the stockpiles.
And of course they’re in harm’s way some of the time.
At its core, The Monuments Men reminds us why art is such a big deal for culture. Clooney (who wrote the script with Grant Heslov) does a great job highlighting how art serves as a type of trophy for a culture’s achievements. Without them, it is hard to grasp what a society has done. They argue that art serves more of a purpose to a country than the men fighting for it.
These ideas of culture and sacrifice are thoroughly explored. However, it’s a bit hypocritical to paint (or try to a paint) a broad stroke with a narrow brush. They do sprinkle in other cultures, and pay homage to them (even if this was partially fictionalized), but these attempts seem futile. A lot of war movies, especially those made in the U.S., tend to celebrate the U.S. and not the Allied Forces as a whole. The Monuments Men falls into this trap.
This then begs the question: how could they have done it differently? For one, they could’ve done away with the entire Russian third-wheel conflict. If this was truly a Allied/Axis conflict, this just seems like an unnecessary hitch.
Unless of course they are doing it to build the tension and drama. Which, spoiler alert, was their intent. World War II movies seem to need these dramatized moments – you know, like the stepped-on-a-landmine bit – and Hollywood is a perfect place to dramatize them. This explains the Russia part, too.
But enough negative banter. The Monuments Men, to return to my initial point, talks some sense into someone that doesn’t quite understand art, in the sense that true appreciators do. Personally, I’ve always been fascinated with how language interacts with culture (yes, it’s because I’m an English nerd), but I tend to forget how physical objects play into culture. To get a person like me interested in those artifacts should say something about the effectiveness of the suspense. This is even true despite what I considered some flawed pacing…and here I go into the negatives again.
As you can tell, The Monuments Men is a mixed bag. The good does doesn’t overshadow the bad quite as much as you’d hope. If this movie had released when it was supposed to (back in December), we’d be considering this one of the disappointments (up there with August: Osage County). Instead, we can now view it is a decent feel-good story that toots America’s horn. Which is better…you tell me?