You may think all the World War II stories that could be committed to film have been covered, but George Clooney’s got a new one for you. His latest as a director, “The Monuments Men,” is based on the real exploits of a team of art experts tasked with recovering priceless works the Nazis were hoarding in the waning days of the war.
“We wanted to make an entertaining film, and we liked the story — we were not all that familiar with this actual story, which is rare for a World War II story — and we wanted it to be accessible,” Clooney says. “We wanted to talk about a very serious subject that’s ongoing and we wanted to make it entertaining. That was the goal. A movie about saving art doesn’t really sound all that fun, so you have to remind people that what we’re talking about isn’t just these paintings on a wall.
“It’s about culture, the fabric of our culture. You can kill them, you can murder their families, but if you take away their culture then that’s when society breaks down.”
The conviction with which he speaks comes from a very personal place — and from personal experiences that helped motivate him to undertake the film in the first place. “I spent a lot of time going through villages in the Sudan and Darfur where it wasn’t enough that you killed them and you killed their children and you did all this stuff, they had to destroy the things that they’d created — from generations before,” Clooney remembers. “They had to destroy what made the village theirs, and that was as important as the raping and the murdering of these families. We started to understand how when we didn’t protect the art during the beginning of the war in Iraq — we didn’t protect those museums and now a lot of those things are lost, those artifacts — how that can actually affect the community in a very deep way. What are you fighting for if it’s not your culture, your life?”
His fifth film as a director, “The Monuments Men” marks Clooney’s first outing behind the camera since 2011’s “The Ides of March,” and while those jobs take longer to get out, he’s much happier in the director’s chair, he’s found. “I prefer directing to doing other things. Directing and writing, I think, they seem to be infinitely more creative,” he says. “I like it more than acting now. I don’t know whether it’s improving or not, but it’s definitely evolving in different directions.
“All you’re trying to do is learn from people that you’ve worked with. I’ve worked with the Coen brothers, with Soderbergh, Alexander Payne — I’ve worked with really great directors. You just try to watch what they’re doing and then steal it. That’s the theory. You go, ‘Oh, I like that. I’m going to do it that way.'”