Director: George Clooney Writers: George Clooney, Grant Heslov (screenplay); Robert M. Edsel, Bret Witter (book) Actors: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Cate Blanchett Rating: PG Runtime: 118 min
The genre under which a film is classified can be very important to its perceived success. Many filmgoers decide which films they will and will not see based on this categorization; some only view romantic comedies, while others avoid horror flicks at all costs. Indeed, when selecting the winners for the Golden Globe awards, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association goes so far as to split the Best Motion Picture nominees into the separate categories of “Drama” and “Musical or Comedy.” The success of George Clooney’s new film The Monument’s Men (2014) is greatly affected by the genre lens through which it is viewed. If considered to be a World War Two drama, the film appears weak, yet when properly viewed as a lighter adventure story, the movie becomes a winsome tale full of fun and emotion that is bolstered by an important moral and message.
Based on the true historical book of the same name, The Monuments Men tells the tale of an unlikely platoon of art historians who venture into the destruction of World War II in order to save art masterpieces from theft and destruction and return them to their rightful owners. Knowing that their mission is unlikely to result in success, the group is nevertheless willing to risk their lives in order to preserve the iconic works that are reflective of entire cultures and societies. While the characters of Richard Campbell (Bill Murray), Preston Savitz (Bob Balaban), Frank Stokes (George Clooney), Donald Jeffries (Hugh Bonneville), Jean Claude Clermont (Jean Dujardin), and Walter Garfield (John Goodman) travel throughout Europe, hunting for and rescuing art to the best of their highly untrained abilities, James Granger (Matt Damon) attempts to work with the stoic Claire Simone (Cate Blanchett), a French secretary forced to work for a German commander who may have inside information regarding the locations of many of the stolen pieces.
As can be expected by an ensemble cast of this calibre, the acting is a joy to watch. Standouts include Murray, who is most amusing when he does not utter a word, as the quiet, gentle, yet cunning Richard, and the equally charming Goodman as the bumbling Walter. Notes could be made about each of these unique and likeable individuals, and although most of the actors are given plenty of comedic lines to deliver, which they do to great effect, all are also allowed moments to display emotion and humanity, and these scenes were the ones that truly resonated. Blanchett also delivers a fascinating character in Claire, acting cold yet vulnerable in a way that only she can fully achieve. Her story offered a markedly more serious turn than that of the treasure hunters, and worked to remind the audience of the gravity and real world effects of the situations presented.
In addition to solid acting, this film also delivers some genuinely charming comedic moments, as well as those of real poignancy. The tone of the work is too light for it to be categorized as a war film, yet the themes of self-sacrifice and the significance of art are certainly important and worthy of exploration. The plot is also bolstered by its true story status, as the audience becomes fascinated by a historical tale that they know to have actually occurred years ago. While the cinematography does not offer anything particularly new or exciting, the score hits all the right notes, effectively guiding audience emotions and fitting with a screenplay by turns full of both wit and emotion.
This film sets out to deliver a Hollywood version of a true story, and that is exactly what it provides. Those who become frustrated by predictable dialogue lines and sound motifs will undoubtedly find fault with the film, yet I found it easy to ignore the clichés and to buy into the adventure. The talented actors deliver an overall fun time punctuated by some truly emotional moments, and, as always, it is enjoyable to watch such a talented ensemble cast collaborate. More of an adventure story set in World War II than an actual World War II movie, The Monument’s Men could act as an effective introduction to this theme for younger audiences, or simply as a lighter alternative for any filmgoer searching for fun with a purpose.