In what would almost seem to be appropriate timing, the George Clooney, based-on-a-true-story cinematic vehicle titled Monuments Men, opened last week just in time for International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
As a recent USA Today review explained, the film has every component required in the formula of how to make a Hollywood blockbuster: “a true story, heroic characters, tragic loss, historic monuments, a treasure hunt for world-famous art, American military grit, the saving of Western civilization as we know it.”
Add a stellar cast that includes the likes of Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon, Bill Murray and John Goodman, plus Clooney as a star, director and co-producer and you have a solid film.
"Clooney has shown himself to be a decent storyteller when he has something to work with and he certainly does here," says Owen Pell, a specialist in Holocaust-related litigation who has handled multiple cases of art looted from Jews by the Nazis.
USA Today explains that the film is based on a 2009 book by the same name by Robert Edsel with Bret Witter. “That in turn follows the first scholarly look at the story, The Rape of Europa:, by historian Lynn Nicholas, published in 1994, which documented the breathtaking, unprecedented scope of Nazi looting” according to the publication.
Keep in mind that films based on truth are still, in fact, fiction. "The movie as far as I understand is really fictional - the (Monuments Men) never worked together in a group, they never went to Berlin and rescued something," Nicholas says. "But it will be a good movie, judging from the trailer. The sets are modeled after the photographs" of the period.
The Monuments Men were teams of artists, art historians and museum curators set up by the American and British armies during the war, first to help protect Europe's historic monuments from Allied bombing.
Then, according to USA Today, at the end of World War II, "something truly unprecedented: to create collection points to retrieve and catalog private property that had been looted and to return it to their countries of origin," Pell said.
Clooney says he was attracted to their level of commitment. "To their country, to the great works of art of the world. It's pretty unbelievable that they put their lives at risk for a principle they felt that deeply," he said at a recent press panel on the movie.
Apparently the mission was largely successful, despite the obvious fact that not every piece of art could ever be recovered. Still, USA Today reported that “of an estimated 20 million looted art and artifacts, much of it stolen by Hitler and his Nazi lieutenants for themselves and Germany, the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives teams within five years after the war managed to return about five million objects to their countries of origin, if not to their previous owners, many of them Jews who died in the Holocaust, says Edsel.”