"The Monuments Men" invites you to learn more about this aspect of martial history. The Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives unit was part of the Allied Military Government for Occupied Territories, which assumed control of Italy as the country was liberated by the Allies. The work of the MFAA was well described in the book, The Rape of Europa, and the subsequent documentary of the same name in 2006. The unit's work was also well laid out in recent articles in the Smithsonian magazine and in The New York Times. The articles, alas, are more exciting than this movie called "The Monuments Men."
George Clooney was co-writer of the screenplay with Grant Heslov, who also wrote "Good Night and Good Luck." They had to decide how best to present the story. Perhaps they should have concentrated on one man and one work of art, say, the Ghent Altarpiece instead of dozens of the 5 million pieces of art saved by the platoon of older men. Perhaps they should not have followed the formula of war movies wherein the first half-hour is spent gathering together the disparate members of the unit. Maybe they should not have conflated the several, indispensable women, such as Ardelia Ripley Hall and Anne Bell, into one woman, Claire Simone, who is played by a somber Cate Blanchett.
As it stands, the script is flat and preachy patriotic with far too many failed attempts at banter among the odd men gathered for a single effort, to find the art works. Art works, stolen and hidden by Hitler for the Fuhrer Museum, are back again in the headlines with the recent discovery of more artworks in the flat of a Nazi art dealer's son.
Clooney puts himself forward as Frank Stokes, a museum director, who initially presents the idea of saving Europe's culture to FDR. Matt Damon plays a curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Bill Murray is taxed with the role of an architect; John Goodman, his bassett-hound looks making him resemble Sad Sack, plays a sculptor. Bob Balaban plays a foil to Murray's character. Hugh Bonneville, the master of Downton Abbey, plays a recovering alcoholic, and Jean Dujardin, of "The Artist" fame, rounds out the platoon as the Frenchman.
As director, Clooney organizes the scenes by date and city, and that works. Unfortunately, Alexandre Desplat's music is all pipes and drums, and its militant energy does not make up for the lack of dynamism in "The Monuments Men."