The Monuments Men (directed by George Clooney, based on the book by Robert Edsel and Bret Witter) would be an easy movie to dismiss or mock if you were so inclined. World War II film about aging scholars rescuing and returning art… Doesn’t Hollywood so like to congratulate itself about its own artistic contributions, etc., etc.. But, with Clooney determined to give us an effective history lesson, and with an all-star cast (Bill Murray, John Goodman, Matt Damon, Jean Dujardin, Cate Blanchett, and Bob Balaban) determined to tell a genuine tale, the result is a very fine movie.
It is a story worth telling – the mystery and intrigue of tracking down all the art the Nazis confiscated, the misgivings of some about the allies’ goals for recovering said art, and even the race with the Soviets. And within the meta-elements of the film, a very interesting study of war-movies. The gathering of the team, the guys who despise each other at the outset only to become best friends, the showdown in Act III… At the heart of the story these Monuments Men had very noble goals, but like soldiers everywhere they continued on mostly for each other. This is a line that goes back from Saving Private Ryan to The Big Red One to The Dirty Dozen.
You leave the theater on a positive note. After all, we did rescue the art and return it where possible. The important signposts of Western Civilization return home. When President Roosevelt asks Lt. Stokes (Clooney) if it was all worth it, he has a definitive answer. A little later you may find yourself considering how the same symbols and signposts, the same Western Civilization also led to Hitler, the Nazis, and the Holocaust. Well, that’s history for you.