Start reading about the Allied military unit charged with finding and securing the stolen artworks of World War II, and you will happily disappear into fascinating stories of heroism in the face of Nazi treachery. The 2006 documentary The Rape of Europa stirringly recounts part of the saga, and is a good starting point for further inquiry. George Clooney’s movie, inspired by the unit, is a sincere if unwieldy plea for art as a vital human resource, but The Monuments Men can’t quite do justice to the tale.
Clooney first appears as Danny Ocean with professorial beard: Frank Stokes, a museum curator with FDR’s approval to assemble a crack team of art experts for active duty. As a filmmaker (he co-wrote with frequent partner Grant Heslov), Clooney knows he can’t entirely escape the air of the Ocean’s Eleven pictures, so he doesn’t try; the all-star assembly this time returns Matt Damon to the ranks, with new enlistees Bill Murray, Jean Dujardin (the Oscar winner for The Artist), Bob Balaban, and John Goodman.