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Monuments Men Save European Art in WWII

Directed by George Clooney. Written by George Clooney and others. Based on the book by the same name. 118 minutes. Columbia Pictures and Fox 2000 Pictures, 2014.

by Nancy Kerstetter

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Fortunately, The Monuments Men is not overly-produced like many Hollywood war films. Even without a constant symphony of explosions, bullets and graphic wounds, viewers feel themselves pulled back in time to the World War II era.

Intent on building a museum for himself, Hitler instructs his men to ravage French and European art museums, private collections and churches. When the war turns against Germany, Hitler begins to withdraw to the Fatherland, taking his plunder with him or hiding it for later retrieval. Enter the Monuments Men made up of art experts, not soldiers, from the United States, Great Britain and France. Their job is to help the armed forces avoid further art-related devastation and recover what was stolen. It is a tall order for seven men and a French woman, who has important information but mistrusts the allies. The clock is ticking, no one knows how Hitler will retaliate if he realizes the war is really lost.

While critics rate The Monuments Men movie poorly, they are wrong. George Clooney, director and lead character, shapes the story in an intriguing way via lighting, costumes, setting and acting. He takes a minimalist approach. The sets are darkly lit helping set the tone for the 1940s era of war. Film reviewers probably expect lots of splash from Clooney, but instead of special effects, he delivers a period-savvy movie overflowing with visual stimuli.

Side note: This film has a black & white feel to it, although it is filmed in color. Actual newsreels from World War II were filmed in black & white, as well as color. But the government producers determined the color footage was too graphic for American audiences of the 1940s, so they showed only the black & white.

In the movie, the characters make strong entrances so the audience is introduced to each one individually and memorably. Clooney foresaw the need to clarify the eight main roles so that moviegoers would comprehend their personalities and characters before the story could progress.

For a bit of comic relief, James, portrayed by Matt Damon, is confident of his French language skills but several times his French is questioned in playful dialog indicating he is not as good as he thinks. It is a small thing, but helps draw the audience into his character and the story overall. This reminds the viewer of the immensity of the undertaking of the Monuments Men.

The Monuments Men are average citizens with only military basic training under their belts as a formality for joining the war effort. Bill Murray does a creditable job as older team member Richard Campbell. For Christmas, his family sends him a record with personal messages. In a poignant moment, his buddy slips the record onto the camp-wide public address system to play it for him. Murray's acting here was especially tender as he reacts to hearing the voices of his wife and children—highlighting the sacrifices of these older, family men who became the Monuments Men.

On the eve of the Monuments Men's final initiative, leader Clooney gives a rousing speech that borders on cheesy. It teeters on the edge without going over, unlike the President's smarmy, patriotic address in Independence Day. Director Clooney handled the emotional scene with a lightweight touch.

The Monuments Men is based on a true story told in book form by Robert M. Edsel, The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History.

Transposing a story from print to film necessitates changes to the story. Events are reshaped for visual impact. Characters are deleted or transformed into a more dynamic version of their real selves. While a story unfolded in print takes place in the reader's imagination, a movie shows the viewer the appearances of settings and characters. One's imagination is involved too, but Director Clooney guides the viewer's attention to see things from a certain perspective and succeeds most of the time.

The movie story is not the same as the book on which it is based, but it is a creditable entertaining story worthy of your movie dollars. Either before or after seeing it, do read Edsel's book to understand the rest of the story.

On May 20, 2014, you can obtain this movie from Amazon:

The Monuments Men on DVD

The Monuments Men on Blu-ray

The Monuments Men Instant Video

The Monuments Men Instant Video HD

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