Originally planned for a Christmas release, The Monuments Men finally makes it into theaters this weekend. Directed and co-written by George Clooney, who also stars as George L. Stout, the film is a war-time picture highlighting an unusual group of heroes. Based on true accounts, The Monuments Men tells the story of Stout and other over-aged art experts and connoisseurs who were put together by Franklin D. Roosevelt to save priceless art being plundered and destroyed by the Nazis during WWII.
The group of Monuments Men includes Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, and Bob Balaban, along with Englishman Hugh Bonneville, and Frenchman Jean Dujardin. A little bit Ocean’s Eleven and a little bit old school war film, Clooney’s latest project begins with Stout stumping for the need for such and organization and recruiting old friends on what many in both Washington and on the battlefield see as nothing more than a fool’s errand. From basic training through searching abandoned German salt mines after the end of WWII, the film follows the fate of the unusual band of art experts and historians turned soldiers and the treasures they seek.
Certainly nostalgic in tone, and with an ending that’s far too cute for my tastes, I can see why The Monuments Men was pulled from its original prime Oscar-contending December 18th release date. Although Clooney’s film isn’t as good as that of Martin Scorsese‘s The Wolf of Wall Street (which snuck into the spot Monuments Men abandoned), it really isn’t trying to be.
Offering a chance to re-team with Damon, The Monuments Men also gave the actor-director a chance to make a spirited, commercial, and non-cynical tale while bringing attention to the stories of real soldiers who put their lives on the line to save thousands of works of art which could have been lost forever. And if the biggest knock I can say about the film is that its a bit too cheesy and nostalgic in places and that ultimately it isn’t one of the best film’s of last year, we’ll that’s not too shabby.
Giving us Clooney and Damon together on-screen alone is worth the price of admission (even if I would have preferred Damon’s subplot with Cate Blanchett to be wrapped up quicker allowing his character to spend more time with the rest of the men). The film also puts Stripes star Bill Murray back in uniform for the first time quite a while. Balaban is terrific as the member of the group with the biggest chip on his soldier (and the most minuscule rank), and I also quite enjoyed the relationship between Goodman and Dujardin.
The Monuments Men may not be the great movie I was hoping for when I first learned about the project and its cast, but it provides an opportunity for each of its stars to shine and allows Clooney the opportunity to share the adventures of this unusual unit with a wide audience. Given its release in the dead of winter during what has become known as the Hollywood dumping grounds where mediocre films go to die, I hope audiences will give it a chance with a film that will entertain and teach them a little about history and art along the way.