The Monuments Men and the value of human life and art

Sixteen years ago, Matt Damon starred in Saving Private Ryan, a World War II movie that raised the question of whether it made sense for several solders to risk their lives just to save one ordinary man. Now he’s starring in The Monuments Men, a World War II movie about a bunch of soldiers who risk their lives — and, who knows, maybe the lives of others — to save classic works of art. And a question I’ve been wondering lately is whether the new film will even raise the question of whether it makes sense to sacrifice human life for inanimate objects of this sort.

The question isn’t really raised in any of the film’s promotional videos, which spell out the heroism of the main characters and the justification for their cause. As Damon puts it in the featurette below: “Ultimately, it’s a movie about people who are willing to sacrifice everything to save what is the very best of us, of humanity.”
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Review: The Bourne Supremacy (dir. Paul Greengrass, 2004)

If we forget The Chronicles of Riddick — and odds are you had until I mentioned it just now — this is turning out to be a good summer for sequels, from big-budget blockbusters like Spider-Man 2 to small art-house films like Before Sunset. Somewhere between the sensibilities of those two flicks lies The Bourne Supremacy, an intelligent, action-packed thrill ride which also has the documentary-like feel of a European travelogue. Unlike, say, the James Bond films, which are loaded with product placements and pyrotechnics, and which gravitate toward famous tourist attractions like the Millennium Dome and the Eiffel Tower, the Jason Bourne movies are filmed in a more naturalistic style, and are grounded in more mundane yet familiar locations: train stations, hotels, and housing projects that are believable precisely because they don’t seem to have been dressed up for a movie.

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