Directed by: George Clooney
Anyone who has ever seen Raiders of the Lost Ark knows that those rotten Nazis liked to glom their hands onto anything of perceived value; religious artifacts, art, the gold fillings of the Jews they sent to the gas chambers…but this film really brings home that point when George Clooney (as Lt. Frank Stokes) gathers together a group of art historians, and architects to salvage some of the great art pieces of Europe from destruction by the retreating Germans (and “appropriation” by the approaching Russians.
Based on the true story of perhaps the greatest treasure hunt in history, The Monuments Men were a team of international art historians who were thrown together to participate in a race to save history. This dramatic thriller focuses on an unlikely World War II platoon, that was tasked by FDR to go into Germany in order to rescue artistic masterpieces from Nazi thieves and then returning those pieces to their rightful owners. Even the men attempting the feat admit that it is essentially an impossible mission, especially with the art trapped behind enemy lines, and the German army under orders to destroy everything as the Reich fell.
So the question became, how could these guys — seven museum directors, curators, and art historians, all more familiar with Michelangelo than an M-1 rifle – possibly hope to succeed? Still these Monuments Men, as they were called, came to find themselves in a race against time to avoid the destruction of 1,000 of years of culture, they would risk their lives to protect and defend mankind’s greatest achievements. The question that is asked over and over of them was, “Is art worth a man’s life?” to which they always responded with a resounding “Yes!”
This is no patriotic John Wayne WWII film, nor is it the lighthearted fare of something like Kelly’s Heroes, but neither is it the gut-wrenching horror and bloodshed of Saving Private Ryan. This is a real-life adventure with real –life heroes, who risked their lives to save history, even as those around them were actively destroying it. These men set themselves to a task that no one thought was worth doing, but — in the long run — was essentially the entire reason that we were fighting in the first place. If you deny someone’s history, if you destroy the past, then what do we have to live for? Not so much an easy film to watch, but one that so totally deserves to be seen.
Robert J. Sodaro has been reviewing films for some 30 years. During that time, his movie reviews and articles have appeared in numerous print publications, as well as on the web. Subscribe to receive regular articles and movie reviews.