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July 3, 2014

'The Monuments Men' shows important history

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Cooperstown Crier

---- — World War II continues to hold a special place in the hearts of readers and movie goers. The reasons are many but much of it can be traced to the endless number of storylines from that conflict. There is literally a treasure trove of material that keeps emerging. The latest example is the movie, “The Monuments Men,” which we now have available as a book and a DVD at the library. 

It’s common knowledge that the Germans stole thousands of valuable paintings from all over Europe to enrich and amuse themselves. What isn’t widely known is that the American army sent a special task force of art experts to find and rescue these masterpieces. This group of rag-tag “soldiers” was up against impossible odds to even survive such a mission. It makes for a fascinating narrative.

I have not read the book so I can’t really comment on it except to say I’ve gotten positive feedback from at least one patron. However, I did see the movie and found it to be very enlightening and entertaining. It’s one of those that critics enjoy taking a knife to but shouldn’t be a deterrent from watching.

It’s easy to see why critics love to bash the film. It has an all-star lineup but at first glance appears to be miscast. Who can look at Bill Murray without thinking of his screwball character in “Stripes?” And John Goodman still looks like Babe Ruth. And neither one looks like an art historian.

The same could be said of George Clooney and Matt Damon. They look more like dashing officers than artists. The key is that you combine them with other “miscast” actors and you definitely have a group that passes for ragtag. Toss in the elegance and believability of Cate Blanchett as a French resistance fighter and you have the makings of a good movie.

The film begins with Clooney’s character advising the government of the magnitude of the Germans’ theft of historic artwork. He is then tasked with the assignment of bringing together a “platoon” of art experts that would be willing to put their lives at risk in order to recover the stolen gems. The rest of the film is about their efforts.

Blanchett’s role is crucial as she knows where much of the artwork is hidden. It is left to Damon’s character to convince her that his outfit is there to help. She is reluctant because as part of the resistance she doesn’t know who to trust.

“The Monuments Men” is far from perfect. For one thing it lacks sufficient character development. Perhaps the director should have added scenes dealing with boot camp a la “Stripes.” It would have been hilarious since the principles weren’t soldiers (the film has a comic undertone to it for that reason) and allowed us to develop a bond with them. The film is less than eighty minutes so lengthening it shouldn’t have been a deterrent.

That’s just quibbling though. “The Monuments Men” succeeds because it is both charming and an important piece of history. Fans of the actors will certainly like it and the rest of us will learn something new. That’s enough to make it a worthwhile investment.

David Kent is the director of the Village Library of Cooperstown. He can be reached at co.david@4cls.org. Please note that all book and movie reviews are for titles that the Village Library has available to borrow.