The Monuments Men ★★

There's something that disgusts me about this movie's position on "art". The story is about a group of art experts in various fields tasked with saving precious or historical pieces of art from the Nazis, and I can understand and sympathize with its basic message: "they want to destroy not only us but our way of life," "during wartime we forget what's most important," etc. They're not wrong, I just couldn't help the feeling that the "art" which they wanted to preserve was inert and static, only to be appreciated from a distance. By saving it from the Nazis they were also removing it from history. The movie wants to save the masterpieces of Picasso and Rembrandt but has no interest either in how they got there or who they inspired along the way.

The movie imagines an alternate history where the Nazis lose the war but succeed in destroying history's greatest pieces of art and it wants to say that this alternate history is one not worth living in. The problem with this is that life moves on and the process of artistic creation continues. The world doesn't end when we lose Citizen Kane because there are still people today trying to push the cinematic medium forward, creating new art. The Monuments Men doesn't believe in art, it believes in museums. It's a collector, not a creator.

This ties back to the form of the film itself, because for a film so involved with ideas about art it ironically abstains from any sort of artistic creation of its own. It might be a new story we haven't heard before (unless you knew the history on which it's based), but it's told in the safest and most generic way imaginable. It even uses a museum-like collection of actors who we've seen be creative and talented in the past but who are somehow turned into inert, lifeless paintings of themselves.

As a movie it's mostly functional though, and I'm not surprised to hear there were audiences out there who enjoyed it. I even laughed at a most of the one-liners. It's not a bad movie, it's just a fairly average movie which happened to annoy me.

2014 Ranked

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