Toward the end of World War II, the United States set up a military unit it never had before and unfortunately has never had since, a unit whose duty was to protect national and international treasures from the destruction of war. The movie Monuments Men is about the unit’s efforts, and while it is pretty fictionalized – watch for the closing credit on that subject - I’m glad somebody is drawing attention to what they did. But the movie itself is not very impressive.
The men, George Clooney (who also co-wrote the script and directed), John Goodman, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, Hugh Bonneville of Downton Abbey, and Cate Blanchett spend a lot of dangerous time behind or alongside the lines, but heroics are almost incidental, and there isn’t a very unified central storyline to provide narrative structure; what we get is more of a series of separate incidents rather than a real plot. Characterizations are modest, though consistent and distinct: fans of Bill Murray and John Goodman may be disappointed. There is a relationship between Cate Blanchett and Matt Damon that I will say no more about other than don’t expect Hollywood clichés.
The Nazi treasure troves the people are looking for are hard to believe. If you’re lucky, there will be a display in the lobby showing that they are pinpoint accurate. There is a book, titled the same as the movie, and another titled The Rape of Europa, to settle your doubts as to the size of the Nazi Treasure troves, as well as to give you the real facts, which are more astonishing than the move suggests. You will wish we had something like this crew in Baghdad. But lets be thankful we had them once, at least. The Monuments Men is a valuable reminder of a kind of cost of war we maybe don’t think enough about.