|The Monuments Men (courtesy Sony Pictures)|
“Truth Rings Out Softly”
A Review of The Monuments Men by Nick Olszyk
MPAA Rating, PG-13
USCCB Rating, /A-III
Reel Rating, Four Reels
“Who cares about art?” Lt. Frank Stokes (George Clooney) wonders reflexively as he tries to convince Franklin Roosevelt to let him take a team of soldiers into WWII Europe to save precious masterpieces such as the van Eyck brothers’ Ghent Altarpiece and Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child from the fleeing Nazis. Hitler cared little for human beings but quite a lot for art; he indented to steal the entirety of Europe’s artistic heritage and house it in a monstrously large
. As Hitler’s thousand
year Reich comes to an end, he authors the Nero Degree, ordering his officers
to destroy everything. Führer Museum Roosevelt agrees to let
Stokes form a small group of specialists including an architect, museum
curator, and four other nerdy 40 somethings that have no business on the
battlefield in an attempt to stem the tide.
The Monuments Men is probably one of the safest films ever made on WWII. If not for period accurate constant cigarette smoking, it may have gotten a PG rating. It is so beautifully quite. There are no extended battle scenes, little swearing, and all the hunks never bare their chests. It is a life affirming picture about the importance of culture told in a witty and subtle manner. Like a restorationtist who labors carefully over every fiber of a 13th century tapestry, writer/director George Clooney treats his film carefully. The dialogue is clever but not pretentious, the pacing suspenseful but not tense, and every character, even the evil ones, matter.
The film follows the traditional ship of fools narrative with a funny group of characters thrown into an unusual situation, all played by seasoned actors like John Goodman, Matt Damon, and Jean Dujardin. When they arrive at
well after the fighting, the
commanding officer is infuriated with their orders: “You want to tell my my men
what they can and can’t blow up?!” That pretty much sums it up. Fortunately,
they find French secretary Claire Simone (Cate Blanchett) who knows where the
Nazis hid the art. The journey to find these priceless artifacts contains a
variety of funny and often touching vignettes. Sgt. Walter Garfield (Goodman)
and Lt. Jean Claude Clermont (Durjarden) are attacked by sniper rifle while
walking through the ruins of a town. Realizing that neither of them have ever
fired a gun in real combat, they bicker over who will get the sniper and who
will be the distraction. When they find the sniper, it’s a nine year-old. They
throw him in a POW camp like the attitude of a parent putting a rebellious
child on timeout. The clashing personalities, witty writing, and light music
create a nostalgic throwback to classic WWII comedies like Kelley’s Heroes.
It’s a good family film designed for the Greatest Generation. Normandy
A surprisingly refreshing element of Men is the devotion that each soldier has to their families. They are always talking about their kids, their wives, and life back across the
Atlantic. There’s an especially
beautiful scene when Sgt. Richard Campbell (Bill Murray) receives record as a
Christmas present but can’t play it due to lack of equipment. While taking a
shower that night, he hears the voice of his wife and kids singing “Have
Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” His colleague managed to find a way to
broadcast it across the camp so everyone could have a little home away from
home. In another scene, Claire invited Lt. James Granger (Damon) over to her
apartment to celebrate the end of the war and give him important information.
When he hesitates, she simply replies, “It’s .” When he arrives that night, she is
elegantly dressed and he doesn’t have a tie. She gives him a tie and invitation
to stay the night. He reaches out his hand, prominently displaying the wedding
ring, then touches her on the sholder, thanks her for the tie, and politely
leaves. It’s a mezmorizing display of chastity but also tenderness. He is
grateful for her help in recovering the art but faithful to his wife. Paris
Early in the film, Stokes tells his men that must be very careful and not take risks. “Your life is more important than art,” he tells them. This, of course, is true. Art sings God.
This article first appeared in Catholic World Report on February 13th, 2014.