Recently I reviewed the non-fiction book The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel. As I said in my review, I had mixed feelings about the book. It wasn't an easy read but I liked learning about the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program and the efforts to preserve and recover pieces of art and other cultural artifacts during and following World War II.
My husband and I were interested in the film of the same name, a fictionalized version of events in the book. On initial viewing we were disappointed. I suspect that our expectations were too high. On a second viewing we enjoyed it more, even though it still has its problems.
The basic facts in the film are true. How the group was put together was fairly accurate although I think I read that George Stout did not get to choose the men he was working with. But a lot of dramatic license was taken with many of the events, and I did not care for that. It was a very light movie, with little substance.
The characters in the film do not have the names of the real persons who did the work. For most of the characters, you can make an educated guess as to which character in the movie corresponds to the real life person profiled in the book. In some cases, there was no correspondence.
The film would have been better served by using less well known actors. The character played by George Clooney in the film corresponded to George Stout and I think he fit the role very well. But pairing him with Matt Damon made portions of the film seem like another version of Ocean's Eleven. I love Bill Murray and Bob Balaban, and the other actors were very good, but I could not forget who they were and see them as real persons in a wartime setting. There was a lot of humor in the film. There is humor in real life too, but in this case I felt like it trivialized the importance of the story.
Cate Blanchette was marvelous in the role of Claire Simone, an employee at the Jeu de Paume Museum in Paris who had records of the location of many of the artifacts that were spirited out of Paris. The real-life person was Rose Valland, and I would have liked to see more of her role emphasized, without throwing in a hint at romantic involvement (which did not happen).
Overall, I am glad that both the book and the film adaptation are available. Many people who will not read the book might see the movie. I am glad this information is being publicized more, even though it would have been nice if it had been done when more of the original Monuments Men were still alive.
The most important thing for me to say about this film is that I wish my father could have seen it. My father was a World War II veteran who served in the Air National Guard for many years following the war. He was called up and sent to France and Germany for a year when the Berlin Wall went up. He was proud of serving his country and he loved art. He loved to go to museums and he visited several when he was in France and Germany that year. I have many childhood and adult memories of him looking through and reading books of European art and the history of World War II. He would have loved this film.
At Slate.com this article asks How Accurate is The Monuments Men?