“The Monuments Men” directed by George Clooney, based on a true story, boasts a huge star power that includes George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, and Hugh Boneville. The year is 1943 and World War II is almost coming to an end. Along with millions of lives lost in this devastating war, at risk was an incalculable loss of artistic and cultural treasures, as the Nazi soldiers were plundering millions of pieces of art and when it was not possible to haul away the loot, they were destroying them.
Making his case to send in men to secure this loot, at the beginning of the movie, Clooney says, “we are at a point in history where the Nazis are trying to destroy our way of life and it is a high price, if the very foundation of modern society is destroyed”. He asks, “Who will make sure that the statue of David is still standing and Mona Lisa is still smiling”? One of the generals, questions Clooney, “You want to go into war zone and tell our men what they can and cannot destroy”?
Finally, six brave men undertake the task of finding the hidden treasures, of securing them, conserving and cataloging them. This was a monumental mission. The men tasked with the mission were not soldiers, but were art curators, museum directors, and art historians, attempting to secure literally millions and millions of pieces of art. They get only minimal support from the combat troops who considered their main mission to save lives, not art. These men operate with minimal resources, in the absence of packing materials etc. to carefully load and transport the art they find. And they literally are in a race for time as the new boundaries are getting drawn. They get help from an unexpected source, a French woman (Cate Blanchett) who spied on the looting operation of the Nazis for years and carefully noted and cataloged the pieces for years.
The movie based on the book by Robert M. Edsel with Bret Witter and produced by Grant Heslov and George Clooney, celebrates this monumental task undertaken by these brave men and a woman. In the end, they saved millions of pieces of art, sculptures and more. In one mine alone, they found 16,000 pieces of art. In the quest for art, they also found 100 tons+ of gold stashed by the Nazis.
The movie could have been more engaging, the story could have been better told to do justice to the enormity of the mission, where a few men are scurrying like rats through the still smoldering battle, with dogged persistence, to secure for coming generations, a link to the past, a treasure that society will only come to value in the years to come. But this is a story that must be told and one that is engaging and uplifting. I give the movie a ranking of 3.9 on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being excellent.