monu

As I was walking into the movie theater to watch The Monuments Men, I asked my friend who was with me a question that had been plaguing me about the movie since I first saw the advertisements: Is this movie supposed to be a comedy, a drama, a war movie, or something in between?

In many ways, that was never fully answered by the film itself. More on that later.

Starring an excellent cast (George Clooney, Matt Damon, John Goodman, and Cate Blanchett), the film focuses on a group of men from the United States, Great Britain and France, who are moved by their love of art to recover the masterpieces that were on the verge of being destroyed by the war, or stolen by the Nazis (and the Soviets), in the waning years of World War II. Based on a true story, the film gives the viewer a glimpse of occupied France and a good sense of the chaos that followed the Allied landing on Normandy in 1944.

Within that chaos, we are treated to an argument on the absurdity of war. We encounter German soldiers carrying out Hitler’s orders despite the fact that Hitler may already be dead. We come upon U.S. officers befuddled by orders from the top that would require the officers to give up strategic war goals in order to save landmarks and artwork, and those officers then proceeded to ignore those orders. We see patriots erroneously arrested as Nazi spies after the Nazis left. We see grown men pinned down by a child soldier.

As a contrast to that absurdity, the film gives us the Monuments Men. By and large, the Monuments Men are not what one would consider as “the right stuff” for a war, consisting instead of ageing academics. And, adding to the absurdity of those men being called upon to wear a uniform on the front lines, we watch as they undertake a mission that no one else takes seriously.

Interspersed with the  comedy of it all, for much of these scenes are done with an amazing lightness, are heart-breaking scenes of soldiers dying, of families grieving the absence of loved ones and of nations gutted by barbarity.

Writers George Clooney (Clooney also directed the film) and Grant Heslov did a solid job with writing their individual scenes, but where they failed was in the transitions. No doubt done for artistic effect, the change from silly to serious happened at neck-breaking speeds that felt confusing to the viewer. And here, one must add that the film would at times break off into random speeches by George Clooney’s character, George Stout, to the rest of his men about the objectives of their mission and the importance of it, usually coupled with thought-provoking music. The effect was that the film felt over-wrought on the emotional front.

Despite that, Monuments Men is a film worth watching, and it ultimately is a solid portrayal of a segment of World War II that is worth mentioning and was as heroic as any other moment during those dark years.

I still haven’t decided if it was a comedy, a drama or a war movie. Probably somewhere in between.