The recent hit film "The Monuments Men," which Sony is releasing on DVD on May 20 2014, is a nice surprise both for putting human faces on a lesser-known group of true WWII heroes and for being true to the nature of their story.
The past work of Clooney, who directs "Monuments," and having Clooney real-life friend/"Oceans" films co-star Matt Damon co-star in this one are two elements suggesting that their latest joint project is a light-hearted "Hogan's Heroes" style romp. The inclusion of the often wacky and quirky Bill Murray and John Goodman enhances this thoroughly inaccurate sense.
Another spoiler is that this group of soldiers is neither inglorious nor composed of basterds.
Conversely, Clooney seems to stay true to the spirit of the non-fiction book of the same name as the film. One can go as far as stating that this is at least the second project in which the character whom Clooney plays learns the facts of life by taking the good and the bad.
One difference is that the stakes in "Monuments" are much higher than obtaining and maintaining a contract to remodel retail space in a small upstate New York town. One similarity is that Clooney learns that it takes a lot to get 'em (i.e., the facts of life) right in both cases.
The following uber-spoiler-laden clip, courtesy of YouTube, of the UK trailer for "Monuments" provides a terrific look at the scope and themes of the film.
Clooney plays civilian art expert Frank Stokes, whose concern regarding both the plundering of 1,000,000s of great artworks by the Nazis and as to the bombing of architecturally significant buildings prompts him to convince the U.S. government to form an Army unit to combat (of course, pun intended) these practices.
Stokes gets the ball rolling by recruiting fellow civilian art expert James Granger, whom Matt Damon plays. The characters whom Goodman and Murray play are among the other members of this unique band of brothers.
Their objectives extend beyond locating and recovering these genuine treasures to preventing the theft of the more mobile creations and the destruction of the equally significant buildings within the purview of the purpose of the group.
One interesting aspect of the tale of these lesser-sung heroes that Clooney touches on but that an awesome PBS documentary does not is the debate regarding the value of a human life compared to preserving a painting, sculpture, or building. The concept from the "Star Trek" universe regarding the needs of the many outweighing those of the few terrifically plays a role in this discussion.
The relatively slow pace and deadpan acting throughout much of "Monuments" is very apt for this film about a solemn group of men who 100 percent voluntarily place themselves in the path of harm (and who make tremendous sacrifices) for an important cause that not only is one in which they believe strongly but is one that most others do not even consider.
There are also enough deaths, perilous encounters, and other elements of war to tell the complete story of Stokes and his men and to entertain fans of short attention span theater.
A scene in which a member of the artful dodgers fails to evade a landmine is particularly good; it has an element of realism, provides well-portrayed suspense, offers witty interaction among the group, and includes a clever (but not necessarily successful) effort to resolve the issue.
The DVD offers the bonus of behind-the-scenes looks in the forms of documentaries titled "George Clooney's Mission" and "Marshalling the Troops."
The final debriefing regarding all this is that "Monuments" makes a great Memorial Day treat for members of the greatest generation and those who love them. It also is a great chance for younger folks to expand their knowledge of this era of history beyond schoolbooks and more sensationalistic fare.
Anyone with questions or comments regarding Monuments is welcome to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.