Film Review – Monuments Men

For those of you who might not know the film is about a group of US soldiers who are detailed to save as much of the art work and other cultural treasures that they can during World War II. It stars a host of famous names including Matt Damon and George Clooney (who also directed it), and for Downton Abbey fans, Lord Grantham also stars. The team are under pressure to save thousands of pieces of artwork, sculptures etc. before they are spirited away or destroyed by the German army. They are also faced with saving as much as they can before the Russians steal the treasures as compensation for the 20 million or so civilian lives lost during the war. The US soldiers aimed to return as much as they could to its original homes.

The film is very well made and as far as I could tell, historically accurate (World War II is not my area of specialty). The acting is maybe a bit limp in places and you never really feel an emotional attachment to the characters. There is one scene in which one of the team receives a audio message from home and his comrade plays it for him over the camp speakers. The message is from is daughter and grandchildren and they sing ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’. This, for me, was the most poignant scene in the film. It wasn’t because of the emotional connection with the character as this didn’t really exist, it was more for the fact that it makes you think about the soldiers of the war and how hard it must have been for them to be separated from their families. That doesn’t quite do it justice but you get the idea. It brought the emotional hardships of the war home.

Two more scenes stuck in my memory. At one point Matt Damon opens a large barrel that appears to be full of gold nuggets. His comrades enquires what they are and Damon informs him that they are teeth. No more is said about this but everyone who has ever studied WWII at school will know that the teeth belonged to the Jews and others who were taken to concentration camps by the Germans. The other scene is a warehouse filled with crate after crate of treasures. This reminded me vividly of the scene at the beginning of the fourth Indian Jones film (certainly not the best one) of the warehouse and also of the scene at the end of the Raiders of the Lost Ark where the box containing the ark is stored in a similar warehouse.

I was fascinated by the historical content of the move. I never before realised just how much art was lost/stolen and in many cases burnt (including pieces by modern masters such as Picasso). I was amazed by how close Europe came to loosing its treasures permanently and by how many of them are still, even now, missing.

I would recommend the film to anyone with an interest in history/art but don’t expect it to blow you away for its cinematic genius. It was enjoyable more for the fact that it was a based on a true and little known story of one of the world’s most defining wars and because it made me want to find out more about the men involved with this mission.

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