The Monuments Men
|The Monuments Men|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||George Clooney|
|Based on||The Monuments Men
by Robert M. Edsel
|Music by||Alexandre Desplat|
|Edited by||Stephen Mirrione|
|Running time||118 minutes|
(some Flemish, German, French, Russian)
The Monuments Men is a 2014 American-German war film directed by George Clooney, written and produced by Clooney and Grant Heslov, and starring Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban, Hugh Bonneville, and Cate Blanchett. Loosely based on the non-fiction book, The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History, by Robert M. Edsel, the film follows an allied group, the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program, tasked with finding and saving pieces of art and other culturally important items before their destruction by Hitler during World War II.
||This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (July 2014)|
In 1943 during World War II, the Allies are making good progress driving back the Axis powers in Italy. However, Frank Stokes (George Clooney) persuades the US President that victory will have little meaning if the art treasures of Western civilization are lost in the fighting, either as collateral damage in combat or looted. To minimize that threat, Stokes is directed to assemble an Army unit nicknamed the "Monuments Men" comprising seven museum directors, curators, and art historians to both guide Allied units and search for stolen art to return it to the rightful owners.
In occupied France, Claire Simone (Cate Blanchett), a curator in Paris, is forced to allow Nazi officers like Viktor Stahl (Justus von Dohnányi) to oversee the theft of art for either Adolf Hitler's proposed Führermuseum in Linz, or as the personal property of senior commanders like Herman Goering. While she is nearly arrested for helping her Maquis brother unsuccessfully recapture such items, all seems lost when she discovers that Stahl is taking all of her gallery's contents to Germany as the Allies approach Paris. When she runs to the railyard to confront Stahl, he fires on her with his pistol; although she does not seek cover, she is not hit, but can only watch helplessly as Stahl escapes with the stolen artwork.
As for Stokes' unit, it finds its work is frustrated by its own side's combat units which refuse to restrict their tactical options for the sake of preserving architecture, while James Granger (Matt Damon) finds that Simone will not cooperate with those whom she suspects are art looters themselves. The unit splits up for various objectives with varying degrees of success. Donald Jeffries (Hugh Bonneville) of the British Army attempts to arrange the safety of a Belgian church with valuable artwork and is killed attempting to prevent the Nazi Colonel Wegner from stealing a statue of the Madonna and Child by Michelangelo.
Richard Campbell (Bill Murray) and Preston Savitz (Bob Balaban) attempt to track down a stolen Belgian panel set of religious artwork (the Van Eyck altarpiece looted from Ghent cathedral), and in doing so, find and arrest Viktor Stahl, hiding as a farmer, when they identify the paintings in his house as originals stolen from the Rothschild Collection; Savitz uncovers Stahl's loyalties by tricking his indoctrinated children into saluting Hitler when prompted with "Heil Hitler". Walter Garfield (John Goodman) and Jean Claude Clermont (Jean Dujardin) blunder into a Wehrmacht patrol and Clermont is mortally wounded. Meanwhile, Simone reconsiders when Granger shows her the Nero Decree to destroy all German possessions if Hitler dies or Germany falls, and when she sees Granger return a painting looted from a Jewish family murdered in the death camps to its rightful place as a symbolic gesture. Realizing the Americans are serious in their intentions, she eventually provides a comprehensive ledger that provides valuable information to identify stolen art.
Even as the team learns that the artwork is being stored in various mines and castles, it also learns that it must now compete against the Soviet Union which has units of its own seizing artwork as war reparations. Meanwhile, Colonel Wegner is systematically removing and destroying whole art collections as per orders. Eventually, the team has some success as it discovers at least one mine with over 16,000 art pieces as well as grotesque caches such as barrels of gold teeth from victims of the death camps. In addition, it also discovers gold assets of the Nazi German national treasury, the capture of which effectively bankrupts the regime.
Finally, the team finds a mine in Austria that seems destroyed and is in what should become part of the Soviet occupation zone. However, the team discovers that only the entrances were damaged by the locals in order to fool the Nazis and it manages to gain entry even as its fellows delay the oncoming Soviets. As a result, the team evacuates as much artwork as possible, including the sculpture Jeffries died defending, before the Soviets arrive.
Finally, Stokes reports back to President Truman that the team has recovered vast quantities of artwork and various other culturally significant items. As he requests to stay in Europe to oversee further searching and restoration, Truman asks Stokes if his efforts were worth the lives of the men that he lost. Stokes firmly replies that they were.
Truman then asks if, thirty years from now, anyone will remember that these men died for a piece of art. In 1977, the elderly Stokes (Nick Clooney), replies "Yeah.", while he takes his grandson to see Michelangelo's Madonna sculpture, amid large crowds of youth appreciating the pieces of humanity's creativity that his men sacrificed so much to preserve in war.
- George Clooney as Lt. Frank Stokes, loosely based on George L. Stout
- Nick Clooney plays the aged Stokes in the film's final scene.
- Matt Damon as Lt. James Granger, loosely based on James Rorimer
- Bill Murray as Sgt. Richard Campbell, loosely based on Ralph Warner Hammett and Robert K. Posey
- John Goodman as Sgt. Walter Garfield, loosely based on Walker Hancock
- Jean Dujardin as Lt. Jean-Claude Clermont
- Bob Balaban as Pvt. Preston Savitz, loosely based on Lincoln Kirstein
- Hugh Bonneville as Lt. Donald Jeffries, loosely based on Ronald E. Balfour
- Cate Blanchett as Claire Simone, loosely based on Rose Valland
- Sam Hazeldine as Colonel Langton
- Dimitri Leonidas as Pvt. Sam Epstein, loosely based on Harry L. Ettlinger
- Grant Heslov as the Army Field Surgeon
The Monuments Men is an American-German co-production of Columbia Pictures (in association with 20th Century Fox) and Studio Babelsberg. The film was funded by the German Federal Film Fund (DFFF) with €8.5 million, Mitteldeutsche Medienförderung, Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg as well as Medien- und Filmgesellschaft Baden-Württemberg. Casting was held in February 2013 for thousands of extras for the military scenes.
Principal photography began in early March 2013 at the Babelsberg Studios in Potsdam, Germany, in the Berlin-Brandenburg region and the Harz. The mines around Bad Grund, particularly the Wiemannsbucht and the Grube Hilfe Gottes were used in the filming of outdoor scenes. Other outdoor locations were the towns of Clausthal-Zellerfeld, Goslar, Halberstadt and Osterwieck. Some of the scenes, including flights and American war base footage, were filmed at Imperial War Museum Duxford, Cambridgeshire, UK.
The film was originally set to be released on December 18, 2013. A trailer was released on August 8, 2013. On October 22, 2013, the film was pushed back to an unspecified date in February 2014, because post-production was taking longer than expected due to issues balancing humor with the serious nature of the subject matter. On October 24, 2013, it was announced that the film would screen on February 7, 2014 at the 64th Berlin International Film Festival.
The film was screened at UNESCO on 27 March 2014, on the occasion of the panel discussion "Modern Day Monuments Men and Women" on the preservation of heritage in times of conflict and the fight against the illicit trafficking of cultural property.
Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a 32% rating, with an average score of 5.2/10, based on 212 reviews. The site's consensus reads: "Its intentions are noble and its cast is impressive, but neither can compensate for The Monuments Men's stiffly nostalgic tone and curiously slack narrative." At Metacritic, the film has a score of 52 out of 100, based on 43 reviews, indicating "mixed or average reviews".
Film critic Peter Travers in Rolling Stone Magazine gave it 3 out of 4 stars, noting that while some of the dialog and emotions seemed inauthentic, the physical production and cinematography was "exquisite," with shooting done on locations in Germany and England. In comparing the film with current ones, he considers it a "proudly untrendy, uncynical movie," where the story involved people seeking something more valuable than money: "Clooney [as director] feels there's much to be learned from these unsung art warriors. . . . What Clooney has crafted in The Monuments Men is a movie about aspiration, about culture at risk, about things worth fighting for. I'd call that timely and well worth a salute."
Historian Alex von Tunzelmann, writing for The Guardian, noted several historical faults and said of the plot, "If you're getting the sense that the film is episodic and poorly structured, unfortunately you'd be right", and "There are far too many characters, so the screenplay splits them up into little groups and sends them off on various errands. Some of these are more exciting than others – but they do not add up to a satisfying plot. A TV series might have been a better vehicle for the "monuments men" stories than a feature film... The story is fascinating, but this film's good intentions are hampered by its lack of pace, direction, tone and properly fleshed-out characters."
Although the film is based on real events, the names of all characters are changed, and a number of further adjustments to the historical facts were made in the interests of drama. Clooney is quoted as saying "80 percent of the story is still completely true and accurate, and almost all of the scenes happened".
Dr Nigel Pollard of Swansea University awarded the film only two stars out of five for historical accuracy. Pollard wrote that "There’s a kernel of history there, but The Monuments Men plays fast and loose with it in ways that are probably necessary to make the story work as a film, but the viewer ends up with a fairly confused notion of what the organisation Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program (MFAA) was, and what it achieved. The real organisation was never a big one (a few dozen officers at most), but the film reduces it to just seven men to personalise the hunt for the looted art: five Americans, one British officer, the first to be killed off (Hugh Bonneville) and a Free French officer, marginalising the British role in the establishment of the organisation. This is presented as set up at Clooney's [Stokes'] initiative after the bombing of Monte Cassino (so, after February 1944). In fact, its origins actually went back to British efforts in Libya in 1942, and it already existed (albeit with teething troubles) when the Allies invaded Sicily in July 1943."
- Is Paris Burning? (1966 film)
- Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program
- Rescuing Da Vinci (2006 book)
- The Rape of Europa (1994 book and 2006 documentary film)
- The Train (1964 film)
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- The Monuments Men at Box Office Mojo Retrieved March 26, 2014
- Scott Foundas (29 January 2014). "In his fifth directorial feature, George Clooney transforms a fascinating art-world detective story into a surprisingly lifeless prestige picture.". Variety. Retrieved 28 February 2014.
- Michael Rosser (8 November 2013). "Monuments Men heading to Berlin". Screen Daily. Retrieved 28 February 2014.
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- "Tausende Berliner Männer als Komparsen für die Dreharbeiten des historischen Kinofilmes THE MONUMENTS MEN" (in German (Appears to be accessible only if the browser's language is German.)). Babelsberg Studios press release. 26 January 2013. Retrieved 8 September 2013.
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- "George Clooney Struggles With Tone of 'Monuments Men': 'It's Been a Bit of a Dance' (Exclusive)". The Wrap. 2013-10-23. Retrieved 2014-01-30.
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- Fleming, Mike. "'Monuments Men' Release Date - Set For February 7, 2014". Deadline.com. Retrieved 2013-11-15.
- "The Monuments Men in the Official Programme of the 64th Berlinale". berlinale.de. Retrieved 17 November 2013.
- "UNESCO Illicit Trafficking of Cultural Property". Retrieved 2014-03-27.
- "The Monuments Men (2013)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved February 13, 2014.
- "The Monuments Men". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved February 9, 2014.
- Travers, Peter. "The Monuments Men" Review, Rolling Stone, Jan. 21, 2014
- The Guardian
- Monuments Men: Barras y estrellas
- "The Monuments Men (2014)". History vs Hollywood. 2014. Retrieved 2 March 2014.
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- Official website
- The Monuments Men at the Internet Movie Database
- The Monuments Men at Box Office Mojo
- The Monuments Men at Rotten Tomatoes
- The Monuments Men at Metacritic
- Monuments Men book