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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

The Monuments Men

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service


John Goodman, Matt Damon, George Clooney, Bob Balaban and Bill Murray star in a scene from the movie "The Monuments Men."
Western civilization owes an incalculable debt to the real-life figures behind the fact-based World War II drama "The Monuments Men" (Columbia). Yet, despite honorable intentions and a cast of heavy hitters, this cinematic salute to their memory falls well short of the monumental.

The film's title comes from the nickname of the Army's Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program. Formed in 1943, this collection of art historians and similar experts was charged with -- among other tasks -- tracing and rescuing the vast store of cultural treasures purloined by the Nazis during their more than four-year-long occupation of most of Europe.

The sleuthing required to achieve this goal was recounted in Robert M. Edsel's eponymous 2009 book, written with Bret Witter and subtitled "Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History." In bringing Edsel's narrative to the screen, George Clooney takes on multiple roles: co-writer (with Grant Heslov), director and star.

In that last capacity, he plays affable Harvard professor Frank Stokes. After convincing President Roosevelt of the need for a unit along the lines of the Monuments Men, World War I veteran Stokes re-enters the service and sets out to assemble his team.

The ensemble lineup thus provided for includes Matt Damon as medievalist James Granger, Bill Murray as architect Richard Campbell and John Goodman as sculptor Walter Garfield. America's allies are represented by Donald Jeffries (Hugh Bonneville), a British scholar under a cloud of scandal, and Marseilles-based Jewish art dealer Jean-Claude Clermont (Jean Dujardin).

As these over-the-hill soldiers adjust to life in uniform, and to the perils of the Western Front, their attention focuses on Paris museum curator Claire Simone (Cate Blanchett), who witnessed the Teutonic looting firsthand.

James is dispatched to the City of Light to quiz Claire, who has been imprisoned as a collaborator (earlier scenes have vindicated her innocence for the audience). But he finds Claire uncooperative, based on her conviction that the American forces will simply seize the recovered works for themselves and ship them stateside.

The script's comic byplay is amusing enough. Richard and another of the group's number, mousey, bespectacled Preston Savitz (Bob Balaban), tease each other relentlessly. And scenes of basic training find Walter walking casually across an obstacle course, blithely unaware that the shots being fired over the heads of the prone soldiers around him are not blanks.

Yet a firm foundation is never laid for the picture's more solemn moments, most of which concern the band's shared fraternal spirit and pride in its mission. These are too casually flagged by way of dialogue, so that the underlying sentiments register as prefabricated.

Besides the story's primary message about the enduring value of art in all its forms, the background of Nazi persecution implicitly drives home the importance of treating all human beings with equal dignity. And a potentially adulterous encounter that comes too late in the action to be described without a spoiler ends in a way viewers of conscience will welcome.

With wartime bloodletting kept to a minimum and vulgar language probably far less in evidence than it was among the ranks in reality, only a surprising number of violations of the Lord's name pose any serious obstacle to recommendation for a wider audience. With its positive themes in mind, accordingly, at least some parents may consider "The Monuments Men" acceptable for mature teens.

The film contains some combat violence with brief gore, about a half-dozen uses of profanity and a few crude and crass terms. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

*****
John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.





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Monica: The circumstances of St. Monica’s life could have made her a nagging wife, a bitter daughter-in-law and a despairing parent, yet she did not give way to any of these temptations. Although she was a Christian, her parents gave her in marriage to a pagan, Patricius, who lived in her hometown of Tagaste in North Africa. Patricius had some redeeming features, but he had a violent temper and was licentious. Monica also had to bear with a cantankerous mother-in-law who lived in her home. Patricius criticized his wife because of her charity and piety, but always respected her. Monica’s prayers and example finally won her husband and mother-in-law to Christianity. Her husband died in 371, one year after his baptism. 
<p>Monica had at least three children who survived infancy. The oldest, Augustine (August 28) , is the most famous. At the time of his father’s death, Augustine was 17 and a rhetoric student in Carthage. Monica was distressed to learn that her son had accepted the Manichean heresy (all flesh is evil)  and was living an immoral life. For a while, she refused to let him eat or sleep in her house. Then one night she had a vision that assured her Augustine would return to the faith. From that time on, she stayed close to her son, praying and fasting for him. In fact, she often stayed much closer than Augustine wanted. </p><p>When he was 29, Augustine decided to go to Rome to teach rhetoric. Monica was determined to go along. One night he told his mother that he was going to the dock to say goodbye to a friend. Instead, he set sail for Rome. Monica was heartbroken when she learned of Augustine’s trick, but she still followed him. She arrived in Rome only to find that he had left for Milan. Although travel was difficult, Monica pursued him to Milan. </p><p>In Milan, Augustine came under the influence of the bishop, St. Ambrose, who also became Monica’s spiritual director. She accepted his advice in everything and had the humility to give up some practices that had become second nature to her (see Quote, below). Monica became a leader of the devout women in Milan as she had been in Tagaste. </p><p>She continued her prayers for Augustine during his years of instruction. At Easter, 387, St. Ambrose baptized Augustine and several of his friends. Soon after, his party left for Africa. Although no one else was aware of it, Monica knew her life was near the end. She told Augustine, “Son, nothing in this world now affords me delight. I do not know what there is now left for me to do or why I am still here, all my hopes in this world being now fulfilled.” She became ill shortly after and suffered severely for nine days before her death. </p><p>Almost all we know about St. Monica is in the writings of St. Augustine, especially his <i>Confessions</i>.</p> American Catholic Blog The Church really is my mother, too. She isn’t a vague maternal force for a generic collection of anonymous people. This Mother truly nurtures us—each one of us. And for those of us who are baptized Christians, the Church has actually given birth to us on a spiritual level.

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