The Monuments Men
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In 1943 during World War II, the Allies are making good progress driving back the Axis powers in Italy. However, Frank Stokes (George Clooney) persuades the US President that victory will have little meaning if the art treasures of Western civilization are lost in the fighting, either as collateral damage in combat or looted. To minimize that threat, Stokes is directed to assemble an Army unit nicknamed the "Monuments Men" comprising seven museum directors, curators, and art historians to both guide Allied units and search for stolen art to return it to the rightful owners.

In occupied France, Claire Simone (Cate Blanchett), a curator in Paris, is forced to allow Nazi officers like Viktor Stahl (Justus von Dohnányi) to oversee the theft of art for either Adolf Hitler's proposed Fhrermuseum in Linz, or as the personal property of senior commanders like Herman Goering. While she is nearly arrested for helping her Maquis brother unsuccessfully recapture such items, all seems lost when she discovers that Stahl is taking all of her gallery's contents to Germany as the Allies approach Paris. When she runs to the railyard to confront Stahl, he fires on her with his pistol; although she does not seek cover, she is not hit, but can only watch helplessly as Stahl escapes with the stolen artwork.

As for Stokes' unit, it finds its work is frustrated by its own side's combat units which refuse to restrict their tactical options for the sake of preserving architecture, while James Granger (m0000123) finds that Simone will not cooperate with those whom she suspects are art looters themselves. The unit splits up for various objectives with varying degrees of success. Donald Jeffries (Hugh Bonneville) of the British Army attempts to arrange the safety of a Belgian church with valuable artwork and is killed attempting to prevent the Nazi Colonel Wegner from stealing a statue of the Madonna and Child by Michelangelo.

Richard Campbell (Bill Murray) and Preston Savitz (Bob Balaban) attempt to track down a stolen Belgian panel set of religious artwork (the Van Eyck altarpiece looted from Ghent cathedral), and in doing so, find and arrest Viktor Stahl, hiding as a farmer, when they identify the paintings in his house as originals stolen from the Rothschild Collection; Savitz uncovers Stahl's loyalties by tricking his indoctrinated children into saluting Hitler when prompted with "Heil Hitler". Walter Garfield (John Goodman) and Jean Claude Clermont (Jean Dujardin) blunder into a Wehrmacht patrol and Clermont is mortally wounded. Meanwhile, Simone reconsiders when Granger shows her the Nero Decree to destroy all German possessions if Hitler dies or Germany falls, and when she sees Granger return a painting looted from a Jewish family murdered in the death camps to its rightful place as a symbolic gesture. Realizing the Americans are serious in their intentions, she eventually provides a comprehensive ledger that provides valuable information to identify stolen art.

Even as the team learns that the artwork is being stored in various mines and castles, it also learns that it must now compete against the Soviet Union which has units of its own seizing artwork as war reparations. Meanwhile, Colonel Wegner is systematically removing and destroying whole art collections as per orders. Eventually, the team has some success as it discovers at least one mine with over 16,000 art pieces as well as grotesque caches such as barrels of gold teeth from victims of the death camps. In addition, it also discovers gold assets of the Nazi German national treasury, the capture of which effectively bankrupts the regime.

Finally, the team finds a mine in Austria that seems destroyed and is in what should become part of the Soviet occupation zone. However, the team discovers that only the entrances were damaged by the locals in order to fool the Nazis and it manages to gain entry even as its fellows delay the oncoming Soviets. As a result, the team evacuates as much artwork as possible, including the sculpture Jeffries died defending, before the Soviets arrive.

Finally, Stokes reports back to President Truman that the team has recovered vast quantities of artwork and various other culturally significant items. As he requests to stay in Europe to oversee further searching and restoration, Truman asks Stokes if his efforts were worth the lives of the men that he lost. Stokes firmly replies that they were.

In 1977, the elderly Stokes (Nick Clooney) takes his grandson to see Michelangelo's Madonna sculpture, amid large crowds of youth appreciating the pieces of humanity's creativity that his men sacrificed so much to preserve in war.



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