Fri, July 19

The Monument Men scores history points, lacks depth

Matt Damon and Cate Blanchett star in The Monuments Men.

Matt Damon and Cate Blanchett star in The Monuments Men.

There is lots of historic evidence that the Nazis, under Hitler's direction, plundered every major art museum, gallery and many private collections in occupied countries to bring it all to Germany.  The Monuments Men recounts the effort by a small team of art experts to find and recover the stolen treasure.  

George Clooney is Frank Stokes, an army officer who is passionate about the importance of saving the objets d'art because it represents the history of human culture. He appeals directly to President Roosevelt for permission and resources to pursue the quest.

Stokes assembles the team of former comrades, all of whom know each other from the art world.  Matt Damon, Hugh Bonneville (from Downton Abbey), Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, Jean Dujardin (from The Artist) and John Goodman are the team members.  The movie covers the period from D-Day (1944) to the war's end in 1945.  As they skirt the battle sites of the war, they are always in danger of encountering German soldiers.  The Nazis are clearly on the losing side in this period, but Hitler has issued the order to destroy all of the stolen art if he is defeated or if he does not survive.  As the war's end becomes clear to the Germans, they start destroying hundreds of valuable pieces from every historical artist.

The number of objects the team recovered, in reality, is around 16,000 - paintings and sculpture.  In addition, one of the sites they uncover, in a copper mine, holds tons of gold bullion.  After the war ends, the risk they face comes from the Russian army.  They have been given possession of the area where our guys are finding many of the most important pieces. And Stalin wants it all in Russia.  

Cate Blanchett appears in The Monuments Men as a French woman who is active in the resistance movement.  She befriends Matt Damon, but is secretive about the information she has regarding the whereabouts of the loot.  She learns to trust him and after V-E Day she does reveal all she knows, which renders a great deal of help to the Stokes team.

This aspect of the Second World War has been well told in books and documentaries.  The Monuments Men does justice to the enterprise in its depiction of the courage and determination of the men.  We get to know some of the character of each participant.  

The shortcoming of The Monuments Men is the lack of depth in the characters as their roles are written.  The film wants us to learn about the individuals who were so successful at the art recovery.  They are smart and artistically talented - OK.  However, they are also pretty perfect with no idiosyncrasies or fetishes; they never lose their temper, or get annoyed with anything they encounter.  They even find occasions to be light and funny in their conversations.  History is displayed here, with a shallow human element.  I believe we expect better from director and cowriter Clooney.

The Monuments Men is at Harkins Sedona 6 Theater.