Claudette Barius, Columbia Pictures
“With so many people dying, who cares?”
It was not an uncommon question asked of Frank Stokes, who leads a group of historians, architects, curators and artists on a mission to save plundered art and ravaged architecture in the final days of World War II. The events portrayed are based on real events, although certainly liberties are taken and some characters represent a composite of real people.
George Clooney directs “The Monuments Men” and also stars as Frank Stokes, whose character is based on George Leslie Stout, an art conservation expert and Harvard Museum director. In the movie, Stokes convinces President Roosevelt to allow him and a few select experts to follow in the footsteps of the liberating armies to secure historic sites and try to recover plundered artifacts and art.
Required to go through basic training, our aging, out-of-shape experts endure the ordeal and head for diverse assignments near the front.
Matt Damon stars as James Granger, a New York museum curator whose task is to try to track down the priceless art the Nazis have shipped from Paris by the truckloads. The key to his search is Claire Simone, played by Cate Blanchett, who is jailed for collaborating with the Germans but in reality was working to protect and document the disappearing art.
John Goodman stars as a noted American sculptor, Walter Garfield, who is teamed with Frenchman Jean Claude Clermont, played by Jean Dujardin. Together, they tour the countryside following leads on purloined items.
Hugh Bonneville, of "Downton Abbey" fame, stars as Donald Jefferies, who is dedicated to saving Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child sculpture.
Finally, we have Bill Murray and Bob Balaban as Richard Campbell and Preston Savitz. Their expertise is in architecture and art, and together, they uncover a principle player in the Third Reich’s pillaging of France.
Soon, the team discovers the Nazis have stashed the treasures of the world in various mine shafts, and time is running out, since Hitler has ordered a scorched earth policy if he dies. Everything is to be destroyed. The images of the recovery are stunning, some of which are recreated from the front pages and newsreels of the era.
There is something in the director’s touch here that clearly indicates “The Monuments Men” was a labor of love and a fitting tribute to those who risked it all to not only defeat Nazi Germany, but save what Clooney’s character describes as “the foundation of our modern society” and “the story of our lives.”
This is a film well worth seeing. It’s rated PG-13 and gets 3½ stars. Oh, and watch out for George Clooney’s dad, former Salt Lake anchorman Nick Clooney, who plays Stokes 30 years after the war.
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