It’s not every day you get the news that Matt Damon will be playing your father.
Louis Rorimer, who lives in Shaker Heights, Ohio, recently got the chance to see his father’s World War II adventures portrayed on the big screen when the film “The Monuments Men,” starring George Clooney (who also directed) and Damon, was released on Feb. 7. “Monuments” tells the story of a group of men who team up during World War II to save works of art that were taken by the Nazis.
The film also stars Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Hugh Bonneville, Bill Balaban, and Cate Blanchett.
Rorimer’s father James was the basis for Damon’s character James Granger. James Rorimer worked as a curator for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s medieval collection before the war (he would rise to the position of museum director during the 1950s) and, as depicted in the film, traveled to Paris to try to learn the whereabouts of works of art from Claire Simone (named Rose Valland in real life), a Frenchwoman who had observed the Nazis' movements. James Rorimer later wrote a book titled "Survival: The Salvage and Protection of Art in War" about his time during World War II.
Rorimer said his father’s activities during the war were often discussed in the family. “I probably knew about it before I was born, practically,” he said. When Robert M. Edsel, author of the book “The Monuments Men” on which the movie is based, discovered the story of the group, his sister Annie was able to give Edsel letters that James Rorimer had written during the war. (James Rorimer had died in 1966.)
Then came the news that Edsel’s book would be adapted into a movie. Rorimer said it wasn’t a surprise – he had assumed Edsel’s plans for getting the story out there would include trying for a film adaptation – but it was fun to learn about nonetheless. “I was very excited,” he said.
He was also pleased to hear that Damon would be the one portraying his father when he found out that the actor had attended Harvard University as James Rorimer had (though Damon did not graduate.) “There was a certain symmetry to the fact that someone who walked the same corridors would be playing my father,” he said.
He, his sister, his wife, and his two children were able to attend the film’s premiere and got the chance to walk the red carpet, though he said the experience was somewhat confusing if you aren’t a star and didn’t need to stop for photos and interviews. “It was kind of hard to figure out what you're supposed to do,” he said.
But while at the premiere, Rorimer had the chance to speak with Damon briefly, and he said he was impressed with both Damon’s performance and the actor himself. “He clearly understood the character of my father and what he was playing,” Rorimer said. “He made some very complimentary comments about what a great guy my father was… The character as a whole was a great reflection of my father – [the] integrity, seriousness.”
After seeing the film, Rorimer said he believes the message of the film is grounded in both the past and the present. An important part of it, he said, is the artwork that has still not been returned to its original owners even now. “[The message is] honoring these individuals for what they did and making the world aware of what's unfinished,” Rorimer said.
He’s now seen the movie twice and said he liked it even better the second time. One part of the movie not based in fact? The running gag of James Granger’s terrible French, which is mocked by Claire. “He was very good with all the European languages,” he said of his father. "[But] it was a fun joke.”