The Monuments Men: The Great Importance of a Mediocre Movie
Updated: Sep 28, 2020
This blog is typically focused on retelling and preserving the stories of the World War II era. As such, a movie review of a current film is not our usual content. The subject matter of this movie, however, brings it into particular relevance. So for reasons that will become clear, here is our review of “The Monuments Men.”
First off, let’s look at the film itself. Overall, it was generally unremarkable. It was not a bad film, but it wasn’t an overwhelming success either. While the star-studded cast featuring George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, and Cate Blanchett did an adequate job of bringing their individual characters to the screen, the story as a whole felt a bit rushed and forced throughout the film. It’s a large story that would have lent itself well to a mini-series format similar to “Band of Brothers” or “The Pacific." The two-hour feature format felt like it didn’t allow the appropriate time to build the story and the characters and the bond between them to the level that the script required.
Each member of the all-star ensemble had his or her “Oscar” moment in the film, delivering a heartfelt speech or emotional performance. Most of these moments, however, felt forced and unnaturally placed within the story. The viewer is left feeling that the film is trying way too hard to evoke an emotional response from the audience. That’s not to say that there weren’t a few glimmering moments in which a true chord was struck, but there could have been a lot more of those moments had the characters been developed to a point that the audience actually felt invested and cared about what happened to them.
Ultimately, the film did its job. It told the story. It was enjoyable enough. It just felt a little disconnected overall. So, the big question now is that if this film is so overwhelmingly mediocre, why are we even taking the time to review it, and, more importantly, why are we still going to recommend you watch it? That brings us to the second aspect of the film - the history it tells.
The film is based on the non-fiction book “The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History" by Robert M. Edsel. As with most such tales, the book is going to be much more faithful to the true history than the screen play. The film version leans more closely to the historical-fiction category as it embellishes the details and stories surrounding the true history. That, however, is where the true power and importance of the historical-fiction genre lies. It allows us to take a piece of history that is truly worth telling the world about and give it enough of a story to get people to want to listen to it. The overarching story of these men and women who risked their lives to preserve the art and culture of Europe in the face of the Nazi war machine is worth sharing and preserving. Some of the minor details have been changed, but the truth of the story is still present, and that is where this mediocre film finds great importance.
Obviously, there are numerous books on the subject that will give a more detailed historical account of The Monuments Men, but a major Hollywood production like this with an all-star cast is going to get the story to the masses. Hopefully, upon discovery of this amazing story, people will want to know more and will seek out the true history behind the film. A quick search of Amazon reveals not only the book that the film is based on but a number of similar non-fiction books telling the detailed story of The Monuments Men and their mission.
The sheer numbers of artifacts, paintings, sculptures, and historical documents that were saved by these men are absolutely astounding. Until you see the whole story and truly grasp the magnitude of what they recovered and protected, the importance of this piece of history cannot be adequately comprehended. So if you haven’t seen the film, it is definitely worth checking out for the history alone. Or just skip the movie and pick up the book. It’s usually hard to go wrong with that. Either way, it’s a story that should be remembered, preserved, and shared.
For more on the history of The Monuments Men, check out some of the links below.