PAST BECOMES PRESENT: Matt Damon (left) and George Clooney in Columbia Pictures' The Monuments Men
Claudette Barius/Columbia Pictures

The Movie: How It Happened
Grant Heslov, George Clooney’s longtime friend and successful ­writing and producing partner, was looking for a project to do with Clooney — more specifically, a noncynical project with a great storyline. Quite by chance, Heslov picked up a copy of Edsel’s The ­Monuments Men in an airport bookstore. And there it was: the perfect mix of true-life intrigue and grand adventure, combined with an art heist, a treasure hunt and everybody-against-the-Nazis camaraderie. “This is a great, great story — and a story that we didn’t know anything about,” Heslov says.

The Monuments Men Foundation was founded by Robert M. Edsel to preserve the legacy of the people who served as the scholar/soldier Monuments Men during World War II. To learn more, visit

They made the film in a record two years — unheard of in today’s Hollywood production cycle. On Feb. 7, Clooney and Heslov will release The Monuments Men, a WWII movie in the vein of The Bridge on the River Kwai and The Great Escape. Clooney notes that the film is based on a true story, and he wants it to remind viewers of the “war films from the ’50s and ’60s and ’70s that we liked so much.” The stellar cast includes Clooney (who co-wrote, stars and directs), Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Jean Dujardin, John Goodman, Bob Balaban and Hugh Bonneville. The story’s intrigue stirred even the notoriously reclusive Bill Murray, who volunteered to be in the film. “They saw an important story full of interesting characters. First and foremost, that’s what actors respond to,” says Heslov, who co-wrote the script with Clooney.

“This is still the greatest unsolved art theft in history, and it took place during the most destructive war in history,” says Edsel, who worked closely with Clooney and Heslov to provide background while they wrote and filmed. “I believe that some of the tens of thousands of missing artworks that are still out there are going to surface because of this film.”