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|
|Language||English, German, French|
|Box office||$155 million|
The Monuments Men is a 2014 American-German war comedy film directed by George Clooney, and written and produced by Clooney and Grant Heslov. The film stars an ensemble cast including 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 Nazis destroy or steal them, 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 against a $70 million budget.
In 1943, during World War II, the Allies are making good progress driving back the Axis powers in Italy. 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 a seven-man Army unit nicknamed the "Monuments Men", comprising museum directors, curators, art historians, and an architect, 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), in overseeing 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' 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 Michelangelo's statue of the Madonna and Child. 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 (Van Eyck's Ghent 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 countryside 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 hiding over 16,000 art pieces, as well as grotesque finds like barrels of gold teeth extracted from victims of the death camps. In addition, the team 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 the entrances were blocked by the locals in order to prevent the Nazis from 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 he lost. Stokes says they were. Truman then asks if, 30 years from then, 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
- Serge Hazanavicius as René Armand, loosely based on Jacques Jaujard.
- 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
- Justus von Dohnányi as Viktor Stahl, loosely based on Franz von Wolff-Metternich.
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, and a trailer was released on August 8, 2013. However, on October 22, 2013, the film was pushed back to an unspecified date in February 2014, because issues balancing humor with the serious nature of the subject matter caused post-production to take longer than expected. 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 also 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 were "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." He also wrote that "...[e]scapism junkies may feel betrayed", because "...Clooney has crafted a movie about aspiration, about culture at risk, about things worth fighting for"; overall, he gave it a 3/4. Mick LaSalle from the San Francisco Chronicle stated: the "...actors skew a little bit older than the historical Monuments Men, but their lived-in humanity forms a nice contrast to the inhumane megalomania that they're trying to reverse"; he gave it a score of 3/4. Lou Lumenick from the New York Post stated: the film's "...low-key directorial effort is not quite an Oscar-caliber movie, though it's got a great cast, a worthy theme and plenty of things to reward adult moviegoers"; he gave it a score of 3/4.
Joe Neumaier from the New York Daily News wrote that Clooney and Heslov "...make sure "Monuments Men" is fleet and fun, but wisely stop short of simply making "Ocean's Eleven" with jeeps"; he gave the film a score of 3/5  Moira MacDonald from the Seattle Times called the film "...often irresistible, thanks to that delightful cast"; she gave the film a 2.5/4. Randy Myers from the San Jose Mercury News states that while the film "...has many good intentions", it is "...just unfortunate that it didn't have more spirit and a steady sense of what it should be"; he gave it a 2.5/4. Critic Rex Reed from the New York Observer wrote that the film "..is true. It is history. As a film, it is riveting, suspenseful, harrowing and exciting, and somehow, it also manages to be something rare among war pictures-a big-scale entertainment"; he gave it a 3.5/4. Richard Roeper from the Chicago Sun-Times called the film an "...engaging, shamelessly corny and entertaining World War II adventure inspired by true events"; he gave it a 3/4. Stephen Whitty of the Newark Star-Ledger wrote that "...[i]n a way, its familiarity is part of its small charm - and, in a modern world full of imperfect causes, its occasional nostalgic comfort"; he gave it a 2.5/4. David Edelstein of New York Magazine and Vulture called it "...a graceful, engaging film -- I enjoyed it. But it could have been called The Tasteful Dozen."
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."
Film critic David Denby from the New Yorker stated that while "[w]e may have gained something in humor by not taking the saviors in the art-rescue story very seriously, ....we've lost just about all of the romantic pleasures of heroism. Reviewer James Berardinelli from ReelViews stated that the film "...does a good job of illustrating why protecting art from the Nazi scourge was important but it's far less effective fleshing out the personalities of the people who did the protecting." William Goss from Film.com called it a "...frustratingly flat film that drifts from moment to moment with a curious lack of urgency and an overbearing sense of self-importance."
Critic Ann Hornaday from the Washington Post stated that while the film "[n]ever overcomes its unwieldy structure and unevenness of tone, [it]... still manages to make a profound, even subtle point: that Hitler's darkest impulses and annihilating reach extended from human beings to history itself." Reviewer Colin Covert from the Minneapolis Star Tribune called it "...a sturdy, old-school, big-scale Greatest Generation war movie" that is "great escapism". Richard Roeper from Richard Roeper.com February called the movie "...a solid albeit slow-building film with few dull moments", giving it a 3/5 score. Reviewer Andrew O'Hehir from Salon.com called the film "...a slow-witted, occasionally agreeable retread of numerous WWII band-of-brothers flicks its director no doubt watched on TV as a 1970s teenager."  Critic Wesley Morris from Grantland stated that he could not "...think of another movie that feels as simultaneously rushed and leisurely."
Film critic Rene Rodriguez from the Miami Herald called the film "...a wild, stranger-than-fiction true story" that is turned "... into a dull, prestigious slog"; she gave it a 2/4 score. Reviewer Liam Lacey from Canada's national Globe and Mail stated that the film's "...high-minded message about preserving Western civilization often feels at odds with the movie's half-hearted heist-flick approach"; he gave it a score of 2/4. Film critic Tom Long from the Detroit News stated that the director was "...obviously going for old-school charm and camaraderie here, but the first half of the film is so scattered, and the characters are so lacking in specifics, that a sense of group bravado never feels earned"; he gave the film a C-. Steven Rea from the Philadelphia Inquirer stated that "[a]las, it's a throwback that's thrown its back out - limping along, trailed by battalions of stereotypes and ammo rounds of cliche"; he gave it a score of 2/4. Reviewer Bob Mondello from NPR wrote that while the film has "...lots of information, some nice images, plenty of earnest sermonizing about culture", there is "...almost no suspense, or tension, or character development, or structure. Or, well, art." Rafer Guzman from Newsday stated that "[a]t times, this fact-based film feels like a breezy heist flick, while at others it's a somber tribute to the sacrifices of war. The two tones don't harmonize, and they never ring true"; he gave the film a score of 2/4.
Mara Reinstein of Us Weekly states that while Clooney has "...grown into quite a versatile actor over the past decade", in this film, he "...gives himself a role that he could phone in from his living room in Lake Cuomo"; she gave the film a score of 1.5/4. Reviewer Kenneth Turan from the Los Angeles Times wrote that this "...[e]arnest and well-intentioned but ultimately inert" film "...talks a better game than it can deliver".Claudia Puig from USA Today wrote that "...[d]espite its intrinsically fascinating subject matter and winning cast", the film "...is no treasure"; she gave it a score of 2/4.Manohla Dargis from the New York Times wrote that because Clooney cannot "...figure out what kind of story this is, he too often slips into pandering mode, including in his own performance, which is filled with too many smiles and speeches." Joe Morgenstern from the Wall Street Journal wrote that "Alexandre Desplat's intrusive score keeps telling us what mood we should be in. Moods change from moment to moment, though, and not only in the action sequences."
Reviewer Cary Darling from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and DFW.com wrote that the movie's "...shifting tone between light comedy and drama - rarely gets the viewer invested enough to really care what happens to them. And that's unfortunate, because it really is a fascinating footnote in history"; he gave the film a score of 2/5. Joe Williams from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch stated that the "...film doesn't compensate for its narrow focus with character development, derring-do or robust humor"; he gave it a score of 2.5/4. Michael Sragow from the Orange County Register wrote that this "...misfire reduces the Allied effort to preserve Western culture to a series of dim star turns"; he gave the film a C-. Chris Vognar from the Dallas Morning News wrote that "[w]hen you realize it's not coming together, your first impulse is to ask: What happened?"; he gave the film a C. Reviewer J. R. Jones from the Chicago Reader wrote that "The Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program...deserves a better movie dramatization than this fumbling prestige project." Critic David Thomson from The New Republic called it "...one of the most dreadful, smug, and incoherent films I have ever seen, and a travesty of its many large subjects." Peter Howell from the Toronto Star wrote that "...Clooney - who stars, directs, produces, and co-writes - dearly wishes his labour of love could be more than this, as might we all"; he gave the movie a score of 2/4.
Film critic Richard Corliss from TIME Magazine stated that "...[r]ather than juicing each element to blockbuster volume, Clooney has delivered it in the tone of a memorial lecture, warm and ambling, given by one of the distinguished academics he put in his movie." A.A. Dowd from the AV Club wrote that the film "...feels not just self-conscious but also a bit self-congratulatory, its creator squashing the spirit of adventure with too many grandiose lines about the Importance Of Art"; he gave it a C. Reviewer Ty Burr from the Boston Globe wrote that while the "... movie should work like a pip", instead, it "...is a labored mishmash of tones: Half "Hogan's Post-Doctoral Heroes," half "Saving Private Rembrandt," and half "Ingres's 11"; he gave it a score of 2/4.
Owen Gleiberman from Entertainment Weekly stated that while the film "...sounds like a what's-not-to-like? movie", "...it turns out to be a bizarre failure. It's not just that the film is dull - it's that there's no there there to like"; he gave it a C-. Michael Phillips from the Chicago Tribune wrote that the director's "...attempt to honor unsung real-life heroes while recapturing the ensemble pleasures of some well-remembered Hollywood war pictures ... comes off as a modestly accomplished forgery at best"; he gave it a 2/4. Jake Coyle from the Associated Press stated that the film is "...weighed down by dutifulness. It feels like it's only a third act, lacking any buildup of tension or character development"; he gave it a 2.5/4. Bill Goodykoontz from the Arizona Republic stated that "Clooney never quite finds the balance between the earnest do-gooding and the broader comedy he's seeking to find"; he gave the movie a 3/5.
Reviewer Stephanie Zacharek from the Village Voice wrote: the film "...feels loose and disorganized, even though all the requisite cogs (including a jaunty ascot of a score by Alexandre Desplat) have been accounted for." Keith Uhlich from Time Out called the movie "...[a]nother slipshod and banal, if always watchable, Hollywood co-opting of history"; he gave it a 3/5. Alonso Duralde from TheWrap wrote: the film "...[n]ever strikes the storytelling balance that the material deserves. At times, the film drags, while at others, it rushes through essential character and story elements." Scott Foundas from Variety wrote: "Clooney has transformed a fascinating true-life tale into an exceedingly dull and dreary caper pic cum art-appreciation seminar - a museum-piece movie about museum people." Todd McCarthy from the Hollywood Reporter wrote: "....[t]oo much of the time, The Monuments Men falls into a compromised middle zone, not urgent and only mildly amusing." Lisa Kennedy from the Denver Post said viewers should "...[t]hink of them as Inglorious Art Historians". She added: "...this PG-13 entertainment has little of the edge, however complicated, of Quentin Tarantino's 2009 Holocaust revenge flick"; she gave it a score of 2.5 out of 4. Reviewer Peter Rainer from the Christian Science Monitor wrote: the film is "...like an over-the-hill gang variant on The Dirty Dozen, except not as much fun as that sounds." Rainer gave it a score of C-.
The film is based on real events, but the names of all characters were changed, 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 some events have, however, been altered to serve the film's dramatic portrayal of the retrieval of these treasures. The art at the Altaussee, Austria salt mine was saved due to the influence of Ernst Kaltenbrunner. Kaltenbrunner defied the Führer'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 1945 British Special Operations Executive misson, codenamed Bonzos and 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 stored many of them 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, armed them with captured German weapons, and 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 Van Eyck's Ghent Altarpiece.
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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