The Top Ten Matt Damon Performances

P.T. Philben ‘17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
In honor of the The Martian and Matt Damon, winning this year’s Golden Globes for Best Comedic Picture and Actor (we know it’s a questionable comedy at best), here is a look back at the star’s career.

  1. Private James Francis Ryan, Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Matt Damon in Saving Private Ryan. Photo Credit: Dreamworks Distribution.
“Tell her that when you found me, I was here and I was with the only brothers that I have left.”
Playing the character that the colorful ensemble of WWII soldiers led by Captain John H. Miller (Tom Hanks) are sent to rescue after the other Ryan brothers of his family are killed, the actor Steven Spielberg cast as the titular army private received the bulk of the dramatic weight of the film. Despite not appearing until near the end of the second act, Damon arguably carries this movie as much as Hanks does. What makes the performance great is when the emotional arc of the story actually shifts from Miller to Ryan when he makes a hard decision. Ryan’s soliloquy explaining his reasoning perfectly captures why we called the sons who went to war part of the greatest generation.

  1. Mark Whitacre, The Informant! (2009)
Matt Damon in The Informant!. Photo Credit: Warner Bros.
“What I’m about to tell you, it involves something very large.”
Playing against type is always a risky move for an established and successful actor, but this is where it pays off nicely. Mark Whitacre is a real-life business executive who became famous as the whistleblower and FBI informant in this lysine price fixing conspiracy. In this comedic depiction of events, Damon is overweight, awkward and terrible at being an informant, except for the fact that he is seemingly the only one in any inner circle with the guts to do it. Something that eludes many dramatic actors is comedic chops, but the laughs the audience gets out of this one puts Damon right up there with the comedic greats of his time.

  1. LaBoeuf, True Grit (2010)
Matt Damon in True Grit. Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures.
“I thought you were going to say the sun was in your eyes. That is to say, your eye.”
Speaking of playing against type, Damon—being the quintessential Boston native—is quite possibly the last white guy you would ever expect to see as a Texas ranger in a straightforward western. But he pulls it off quite nicely. After joining Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld in the chase of a murderer, viewers may forget half the time they’re watching Matt Damon and convince themselves they’re watching some weird amalgamation of a John Wayne attitude, a Tommy Lee Jones wit, and some random Chuck Norris facts lightly salted on. Damon is barely recognizable, but quite memorable and definitely badass.

  1. Francis Pienaar, Invictus (2009)
Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon in Invictus. Photo Credit: Warner Bros.
“I would like to propose a toast…to the taste of defeat. Drink it. Remember this and promise yourself to never taste it again.”
This is a sports film in which all of the stakes rest on one game, yet the stakes have nothing to do with the actual sport. In his Oscar-nominated role, Damon portrays the famous South African rugby captain who was called upon by President Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) to win the world championship in an effort to unite the post-apartheid country through a national pride found only through sport. Through heartfelt and rousing speeches—not to mention a notoriously difficult accent—Damon embodies the willpower it took to conquer old prejudice and work through the wounds that exist to this day. In their unity and through their hardship, the team came to exemplify the fortitude it took to come together and make something greater than possible when segregated. Damon, along with Freeman, led the charge to make the last act of Invictus more than just an intense game of rugby.

  1. Loki, Dogma (1999)
Matt Damon and Ben Affleck in Dogma. Photo Credit: Lions Gate Films.
“Mass genocide is the most exhausting activity one can engage in, next to soccer.”
As said before, not every actor in the business of heavy drama does comedy very well. Damon proves to be an exception in this religious satire. Damon and partner-in-crime Ben Affleck play two fallen angels who want to use a loophole in the dogma to return to heaven, possibly at the expense of God and creation itself—not that they care much about anybody but themselves. These two are complete jerks, and the film is unbelievably offensive when you get down to it. However, it all works because of the chemistry of the main characters, their ability to make us laugh, and Damon’s ability to keep the audience enthralled with their circumstances so they care without making them forget it’s a comedy. Damon’s performance gives attention to character, comedic timing, and the juvenile irreverence of his situation while keeping the stakes high enough to be hilarious.

  1. Colin Sullivan, The Departed (2006)
Matt Damon in The Departed. Photo Credit: Warner Bros.
“What was his name? The departed?”
In this best picture-winning Martin Scorsese crime flick, Damon plays Staff Sergeant Colin Sullivan, a mole in the police force whose loyalties truly lie with Jack Nicholson’s notorious crime boss Frank Costello. He is pitted against Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio), a member of Costello’s inner circle and an informant for the state police, in an intense game of cat and mouse. Sullivan is the villain who dresses as the hero; we love to hate him. This makes the moments in which he is not hiding behind his authority and lets his true dark nature show all the more gratifyingly irritating. Every great actor needs their fun bad guy role.

  1. Jason Bourne, The Bourne Identity, Supremacy & Ultimatum (2002-Present)
Matt Damon in The Bourne Ultimatum. Photo Credit: Universal Pictures.
“Who am I?”
This action-thriller franchise begins when Jason Bourne wakes up in the middle of the ocean with no recollection of who he is but possessing the body and abilities of a super spy. Damon takes his signature intensity to a character with no distinctly defining features that can be recalled from the beginning and makes us as enthralled with his emotional arc as we are with the mystery unraveling. Damon had already proven himself as a comedic star and a world class dramatic actor, and his portrayal of Jason Bourne proved that he could also own the screen as an action star.

  1. Tom Ripley, The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
Matt Damon in The Talented Mr. Ripley. Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures.
“I always thought it would be better to be a fake somebody…than a real nobody.”
Tom Ripley is a monster. He gets through life by pretending to be other people and manipulating others into giving him what he wants. Forgery is his living in every sense of the expression. So it works in the film’s favor that the character was played by Matt Damon when adapted for the screen. Damon had the acting chops to convey sincere and despicable traits and actions that would suggest mild sociopathy at best. On the other hand, he also possesses the charisma to make it believable that people would befriend him. This is, of course, all to lull the filmgoers into a state where they can be even more disgusted and disturbed by Damon’s dark work.

  1. Mark Watney, The Martian (2015)
Matt Damon in The Martian. Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox.
“I don’t want to come off as arrogant here, but I’m the best botanist on the planet.”
This movie has been called “Cast Away in space,” “the better Interstellar,” and “proof that Ridley Scott hasn’t quite lost it (yet).” All of those things are more or less true; it’s an all-around awesome movie, and much like the film Cast Away relied almost entirely on Tom Hanks’ abilities, The Martian rests squarely on Damon’s thespian prowess and trademark likability. Mark Watney is a botanist and astronaut left behind by his team on Mars after they presumed him killed by a storm. One of the reasons Damon’s performance in this film is so essential is that he manages to inject fun into one of the bleakest scenarios possible. Watney is a stubborn optimist and sees what others would see as insurmountable odds as a challenge to be met head-on. This is a film that does not merely limit itself to being science fiction, celebrating the scientific process. Watney doesn’t have much of an arc, he simply is met with challenge after challenge that he overcomes through intelligent use of his limited resources. If there’s one thing that Damon has proven over the years, it’s that he can play a brain. It is for that very reason that there is perhaps no one better to play the role of this lone survivor in this epic story with the rare distinction of being a celebration of intelligence and education as a heroic trait.

  1. Will Hunting, Good Will Hunting (1997)
Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting. Photo Credit: Miramax.
“Beethoven, okay. He looked at a piano, and it just made sense to him. He could just play.”
The role that made Matt Damon a household name. In one of the best films of the nineties with an Oscar-winning screenplay written by himself and lifelong coconspirator and co-star Ben Affleck, Damon gives his magnum opus performance. Will Hunting is a twenty-year-old Bostonian and unrecognized genius with an unrivaled abilities in mathematics. As part of a deferred prosecution agreement after assaulting a police officer, he is to study advanced mathematics under renowned mathematician and professor (Stellan Skarsgård) as well as work with a therapist who, after being too much for several others, ends up being Sean Maguire, the role that won the late Robin Williams an Oscar. Some tended to dismiss this performance because Damon not only wrote the role for himself, but wrote a character with a lot of parallels to him as a person. Despite this, Damon does more than merely dramatize the persona with which we are all familiar. He portrays a young man who, despite his genius, lacks the maturity and wisdom to find his place in the world. In scenes with his best friend Chuckie (Affleck), love interest (Minnie Driver) and most especially the extremely rich scene with Maguire, Will Hunting hides insecurities about his immediate future and the rest of his life under a layer of cocky charisma that almost serves to fool, as he does know seemingly everything. However, Damon’s performance conveys a certain vulnerability that slowly peaks from the surface of the confident underachiever when he realizes that he owes it not to himself, but to others to live up to his potential.

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