Matt Damon Explains

Just because a story plucked from history is interesting, it doesn't necessarily make for an entertaining Hollywood film. Find out what element Matt Damon said was crucial to The Monuments Men's success.

German philosopher Fredrich Nietzsche once said, "We have art in order not to die of the truth." The Monuments Men tells the real-life story of a small group of misfit artists, historians, architects and museum curators who risked their lives to protect the precious vessels of that lifesaving truth.

During World War II, Nazi troops pillaged many great works of art, but that wasn't the only risk to masterpieces by Matisse, Picasso and van Gogh. Allied troops were blowing everything up. Yes, Americans were also inadvertently destroying museums, churches and historical structures.

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When it was determined that the Allies nearly blasted Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper to smithereens, then-U.S. President Roosevelt sent the real-life Monuments Men to the front lines. But is that enough of a story to make a successful Hollywood film? Not exactly.

We asked The Monuments Men star Matt Damon why people were comparing this war movie to the Ocean's Eleven franchise. His answer was very blunt.

"In order for the movie to be entertaining, it needs to feel like a heist movie, it needs to be fun. Because there's a lot of humor in the idea that these guys did this and it's very humbling on one side of it, but there's definitely room for some jokes," said Damon.

So, how do you balance humor with war? "The movie's got to walk this odd tonal balance to be fun and irreverent without ever feeling that we're taking the subject matter lightly. The stakes need to be appropriately high because there are Nazis in the battle and all of our existence is at stake."

Given that managing tone is the director's job, it seemed that director George Clooney was faced with quite a challenge. Watch our video to find out how Clooney kept Damon and the other actors, including John Goodman, Bill Murray and Cate Blanchett, on the right track.

The Monuments Men opens Feb. 7.

Photo credit: Sony

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