Raiders of the lost art! Based on a true story, The Monuments Men follows seven men as they go behind enemy lines in WWII to rescue artistic masterpieces looted by the Nazis. With the approval of President Roosevelt, art historian Frank Stokes (George Clooney, who also directed and co-wrote) assembles a group of museum directors, architects, artists and curators (Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman et al.). Racing against time, these culture warriors risk their lives to prevent Hitler's destruction of the world's greatest artistic achievements and return them to their rightful owners. Before you march in line to see Monuments Men, train yourself with five crucial facts:
1. Seems Like Good Old Times: Clooney was interested in doing a World War II movie and something less cynical than his previous directorial effort, The Ides of March. His producing partner, Grant Heslov, brought the nonfiction bestseller The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel to his attention. Clooney saw an opportunity to tell an optimistic story on an epic scale and work with an awesome ensemble, including previous collaborators Goodman (Argo; O Brother, Where Art Thou) and Damon (his sixth film with Clooney).
2. Magnifique Act of Bravery: Red hot after Blue Jasmine, Cate Blanchett dons a French accent to play Claire Simone, a curator at the Jeu de Paume museum in Paris. From 1940 to 1944, the Nazis turned the Jeu de Paume into a storage facility for art they'd confiscated from Jewish households and noted dealers. The Claire character is inspired by Rose Valland, who secretly kept track of the Nazis' plunder and helped save thousands of pieces that might have otherwise been destroyed.
3. European Adventure: The monumental story spans the globe, from the U.S. to the U.K., France, Belgium, Germany, Austria and Italy. The filmmakers primarily shot in Germany, with a few weeks in England, and fashioned locations within those countries to double as other settings. The production also filmed in every kind of weather—rain, snow, fog, sun and wind—which, according to Jean Dujardin (he plays art dealer Jean Claude Clermont), added to the realism and helped inform their performances.
4. Making Fake Masterpieces: Over 1,000 works of art had to be authentically replicated to serve as set decoration and props. The filmmakers rented some, digitally printed others, and commissioned detailed reproductions. Two pieces that feature prominently in the plot required special attention—the "Bruges Madonna" by Michelangelo and the "Ghent Altarpiece" by brothers Hubert and Jan van Eyck. The latter, a 12-panel painting completed in 1432, is reputed to be one of the most frequently stolen artworks.
5. Wait for It…Wait for It: The Monuments Men was scheduled for a December 2013 release before getting pushed back to February. Clooney blamed the delay on incomplete visual effects and music, but reports also surfaced that there were issues with tone. Though the film does struggle for tonal consistency, the larger problem is the meandering, uncompelling narrative. There's a rich tale to be told about these ragtag heroes, but—unlike the real Monuments Men—Clooney and gang aren't able to unearth the treasure.
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