A guest review by Fr. Scott Archer
If you had told me not too long ago that I would one day describe a film written and directed by, as well as starring, George Clooney, one of the most Catholic movies I had seen in a long time, I would have quickly corrected your misguided thinking; however, The Monuments Men is a movie oozing with Catholicism. It not only features beautiful works of Catholic art, but Clooney gets everything right in presenting this story. In doing so, he immerses the film in Catholic culture.
The Monuments Men (2014, PG-13) stars George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban, Hugh Bonneville, and Cate Blanchett. The movie opens with the sound of pounding. We soon discover it is a group of priests hastily disassembling the Ghent Altarpiece, Adoration of the Mystic Lamb. This sets the tone for the rest of the movie; that is, the desperate attempt of priests and others to save the art of their churches and cathedrals, the sacrifices they make, and the lengths to which those who attempted to recover the art are willing to go.
Near the end of World War II, museum director Frank Stokes, played by George Clooney, convinces President Roosevelt that the countless works of art that had been stolen by the Nazis had to be recovered. The Nazis are losing the war, and there is a justifiable fear that much of the art would be destroyed or lost forever. The president gives him permission to assemble a small group of men to go into the war zone to recover and save the stolen art.
With a wonderful supporting cast, this very much feels like an old-fashioned World War II movie. I grew up watching reruns of Hogan’s Heroes, and it definitely has that feel about it. While the subject matter is very serious, it maintains a lighthearted feel; however, we also see the tremendous sacrifices made in recovering and saving so much of the art of Europe. For example, Claire Simone (Cate Blanchett), at great personal risk, keeps track of all the art that passes through the Jeu De Paume museum in Paris, recording its origin and its destination. There is also a particularly moving scene with Donald Jeffries, played by Hugh Bonneville, as he attempts to save Michelangelo's Bruges Madonna.
As a priest, one of my great irritations when seeing movies that involve any aspect of Catholicism is the lack of thought or research when it comes to costuming priests and nuns. So much care is put into achieving the correct details in historic dramas, yet seldom do I see this when it comes to Catholic priests and religious. Costume designer Louise Fogley deserves accolades for getting it right. All the priests who appear in this film are dressed correctly in cassocks and birettas, and these are all worn properly.
Overall, it is a fun movie about a serious topic, filled with great emotion, and the score by Alexandre Desplat lends itself beautifully to the action on the screen. You will not be disappointed by this movie, no matter if you are World War II movie buff, an artist interested in seeing a film centered on art, a fan of any of these actors, or someone who simply wants to see how much of the cultural heritage of Europe was saved by a brave few. You will appreciate the great achievement and sacrifice of these men who risked their lives to save the art—predominately Catholic art—from destruction.