The Monuments Men
|The Monuments Men|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||George Clooney|
|Based on||The Monuments Men
by Robert M. Edsel with Bret Witter
|Music by||Alexandre Desplat|
|Edited by||Stephen Mirrione|
|Box office||$155 million|
The Monuments Men is a 2014 American-German war film directed by George Clooney, written and produced by Clooney and Grant Heslov. The film stars Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban, Hugh Bonneville, and Cate Blanchett. It is 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 and Bret Witter. The film follows an Allied group from the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program that is given the task of finding and saving pieces of art and other culturally important items before their destruction or theft by the Nazis during World War II.
The Monuments Men was co-produced by Columbia Pictures (in association with 20th Century Fox) and Babelsberg Studio, and released on February 7, 2014. It received mixed critical reviews and grossed $155 million worldwide.
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 American President that victory will have little meaning if the artistic treasures of Western civilization are lost in the fighting. 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 its rightful owners.
Claire Simone (Cate Blanchett), a curator in occupied France, is forced to assist 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. Simone runs to the railyard to confront Stahl, but can only watch as Stahl departs aboard the train carrying the precious cargo, standing defiantly as he futilely fires his pistol at her.
Stokes's unit finds its work frustrated by its own side's officers in the field, who refuse to endanger their own troops for the sake of his mission. James Granger (Matt Damon) finds that Simone will not cooperate with those whom she suspects want to confiscate the stolen art for their own country. The unit splits up to cover more ground, with varying degrees of success. Donald Jeffries (Hugh Bonneville) of the British Army sneaks into Bruges, which is still occupied by the Germans, at night to try to save a statue of the Madonna and Child by Michelangelo. He is killed attempting to stop Colonel Wegner from taking it away.
Richard Campbell (Bill Murray) and Preston Savitz (Bob Balaban) learn that a Belgian panel set of religious artwork (the Van Eyck altarpiece) was removed by the priests of Ghent Cathedral for safekeeping, but their truck was stopped and the panels taken. Eventually, purely by chance, they find and arrest Viktor Stahl, hiding as a farmer, when they identify the paintings in his house as masterpieces, at least one stolen from the Rothschild Collection. Walter Garfield (John Goodman) and Jean Claude Clermont (Jean Dujardin) get lost in the country side and blunder into a firefight. Clermont is mortally wounded and dies when Garfield is unable to find medical help. Meanwhile, Simone reconsiders when Granger shows her the Nero Decree, which orders the destruction of all German possessions if Hitler dies or Germany falls, and sees Granger return a painting looted from a Jewish family sent to the death camps to its rightful place in their empty home. She provides a comprehensive ledger she has compiled that provides valuable information on the stolen art and the rightful owners.
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 is seizing artwork as war reparations. Meanwhile, Colonel Wegner is systematically destroying whole art caches. Eventually, the team has some success, as it discovers at least one mine with over 16,000 art pieces, as well as grotesque finds like barrels of gold teeth extracted from victims of the death camps. In addition, it also captures the entire gold reserves of the Nazi German national treasury.
Finally, the team finds a mine in Austria that appears to have been demolished. However, the team discovers that only the entrances were blocked by the locals in order to prevent the Nazis destroying the contents. The team evacuates as much artwork as possible, including the sculpture Jeffries died trying to defend, before the Soviets arrive to take control of what is to become part of the Soviet zone of occupation.
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 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.
- George Clooney as Lt. Frank Stokes, loosely based on George L. Stout
- Nick Clooney plays an aged Stokes
- 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 2nd Lt. Jean-Claude Clermont
- Bob Balaban as Pvt. Preston Savitz, loosely based on Lincoln Kirstein
- Hugh Bonneville as 2nd 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
- Miles Jupp as Major Fielding
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 Lautenthal, Clausthal-Zellerfeld, Goslar, Halberstadt, Merseburg and Osterwieck.
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.
Monuments Men received mixed reviews from critics. On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 31% approval rating, based on 221 reviews, with an average score of 5.2/10. The site's critical 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, another review aggregator, the film has a weighted average score of 52 out of 100, based on 43 critics, 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 dialogue 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 contemporary ones, he considered it a "proudly untrendy, uncynical movie," where the story involved people seeking something more valuable than money. He added, "Clooney [as director] feels there's much to be learned from these unsung art warriors...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."
The film is based on real events, but the names are changed of all characters, and a number of further adjustments were made to the historical facts 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".
The accounts of the events have, however, been altered to suit the purposes of the film in its own portrayal of the retrieval of these treasures. The art at the Altaussee, Austria salt mine was saved due to the influence of Ernst Kaltenbrunner, who defied the Fuhrer's orders to carry out the 'Nero Decree' and destroy the pieces in order to avoid their falling into the hands of his enemies, according to numerous real-life accounts, including an interview with Ernst Kaltenbrunner's nephew Michl Kaltenbrunner.
A British Special Operations Executive misson codenamed Bonzos in 1945 led by Albrecht Gaiswinkler was responsible for saving the looted art stored in Austrian salt mines. Albrecht Gaiswinkler was parachuted back into the Aussee area with three colleagues: Valentin Tarra, Johann Moser and Hans Renner. The Germans had pillaged a huge number of European art treasures during the Nazi period and many had been stored in the Altaussee salt mine near Gaiswinkler's home town of Bad Aussee. After being dropped into the local area, Gaiswinkler raised a force of around 300 men and armed them with captured German weapons. He spent the last weeks and months of the war harassing local German forces. When the Americans arrived, his information helped them capture several eminent Nazis. He and his colleagues had captured the salt mine, prevented the destruction of the artworks held there and were able to hand over "a number of Nazi treasure hoards, including the Mona Lisa and the Austrian Imperial Crown Jewels". Other artworks rescued included the Ghent Altarpiece.     
Dr Nigel Pollard of Swansea University awarded the film only two stars out of five for historical accuracy. Pollard wrote, "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."
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- The Train (1964 film)
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to The Monuments Men.|
- 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