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The Films Of Matt Damon: A Retrospective

The Playlist By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist March 3, 2011 at 7:54AM

We know it's a little premature to start ruminating on the career of Matt Damon who, at the age of 40, is just entering the middle of his career. But as one of the biggest stars on the planet, a look at his work up until now is quite remarkable and pretty much unmatched by anyone his age in Hollywood. You wouldn't have thought it watching his first, small appearance over 20 years ago in 'Mystic Pizza," but Matt Damon has evolved into one of the biggest and the most interesting movie stars in America. Even a decade ago, it looked as though his best friend and co-writer of "Good Will Hunting," Ben Affleck, was set to be the breakout; Damon made a serious of unfortunate film choices, and his career was somewhat on the ropes.
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We know it's a little premature to start ruminating on the career of Matt Damon who, at the age of 40, is just entering the middle of his career. But as one of the biggest stars on the planet, a look at his work up until now is quite remarkable and pretty much unmatched by anyone his age in Hollywood. You wouldn't have thought it watching his first, small appearance over 20 years ago in 'Mystic Pizza," but Matt Damon has evolved into one of the biggest and the most interesting movie stars in America. Even a decade ago, it looked as though his best friend and co-writer of "Good Will Hunting," Ben Affleck, was set to be the breakout; Damon made a serious of unfortunate film choices, and his career was somewhat on the ropes.

But "The Bourne Identity" turned things around, and ever since then, Damon's been committed to, and more importantly, had the requisite commercial heat to pick interesting roles and work with great directors -- Steven Soderbergh, Terry Gilliam, Clint Eastwood and Martin Scorsese among them. He's got the everyman Gary Cooper-esque charm of the great stars, but it's when he subverts that appeal that he proves that he's not just a movie icon, but a tremendous actor as well.

The Adjustment Bureau" hits theaters tomorrow, and we were pleasantly surprised to find that despite our fears over the project, which was delayed nearly nine months from its first mooted release date, the film is offbeat, interesting and mostly well-executed, and features yet another solid performance from its star. In honor of its release, we've gone back and taken a look at the career of a man who's becoming, for the most part, a seal of quality.

Courage Under Fire” (1996)
Damon had popped up in various films before, most notably the coming-of-age tale "School Ties" but he really grabbed people's notice for the first time in Ed Zwick's military thriller "Courage Under Fire." The young actor, then only 25, underwent a dramatic, Christian Bale-style weight loss of 40 pounds for his role as Specialist Ilario, the medic of the Gulf War unit whose late leader (Meg Ryan) is being considered to be the first woman to be awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor. But the survivors have a secret, and Damon does excellent work as the guilt-ridden, drug-addicted soldier. It's no wonder that his method commitment landed him the lead in Francis Ford Coppola's "The Rainmaker." The film is one of Zwick's more palatable efforts, content to be a thriller first and a polemic second, but it's best remembered now for that early performance from Damon. [B-]

Good Will Hunting” (1997)
Not only was this the film that launched Matt Damon into the mainstream film world, but it also demonstrated how powerful an actor he already was, not to mention what he would become. Playing a South Boston mathematics savant with a criminal background full of physical and psychological abuse, Damon takes on the role of Will Hunting with aplomb. We always believe him as he plays the rock hard exterior with the soft, mushy guy waiting to break out from inside. It doesn’t hurt that the screenplay is magnificent, and Damon co-wrote it with Ben Affleck, meaning he makes every line count. He’s also never more convincing than when playing a character from Boston -- the place is clearly in his blood. Perhaps most impressive is the way he plays against the other actors -- it's not surprising that he's got chemistry with best pal Affleck, but to stand up against an Oscar-winning Robin Williams and the excellent Stellan Skarsgård takes some chops. You suspect that, without Damon in the lead, it wouldn't be regarded as one of the best films of the 1990s. [A]

This article is related to: Actors, Feature, Matt Damon


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