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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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Hereafter” (2010)
Clint Eastwood’s afterlife melodrama is not without its grace notes, though he flubs the delivery in the final half hour by attempting to resolve the unresolvable. His surprisingly sloppy craft doesn’t distract from some of the best work of Matt Damon’s career. As a clairvoyant who can speak to the dead, Damon is appropriately tortured, but he creates a three-dimensional characterization by filling in the margins with a likable corny sense of humor that plays less as moments of levity than as a defense mechanism used by a fairly damaged person. Amongst the three international stories that make up the narrative of “Hereafter,” it seems a little hokey to say that the one featuring the Big American Superstar is the best, but Damon has simply evolved that much as an actor that his struggles outshine any of the superficial obstacles present in Peter Morgan’s flawed script. [C+]

True Grit” (2010)
It's not the showiest or even the most nuanced character in the Coen Brothers' rapturous "True Grit" remake, but Damon's dickish Texas Ranger LeBoeuf still manages to be an indelible oddball. Between his typically Texan self-aggrandizing (this writer was born and raised in the state, so this especially rung true), the marble-mouthed cadence that he adopts after he's partially bitten off his tongue, and his combination of heroic tendencies and borderline cowardice, Damon makes the role totally unforgettable. What's even more amazing is that in early interviews, Damon admitted that his entire shtick was basically an impression of Tommy Lee Jones, which lends it an entire meta-dimensional quality that, if we think about it for too long, might make our heads explode. [A]

Odds & Ends: Obviously, we didn’t have time to fit everything in, but for the completists, there are a handful of major performances that we did miss. Firstly, "School Ties,” in which he played a preppy, anti-semitic villain against a young Brendan Fraser, and acquitted himself well. His first big lead was “The Rainmaker,” a part which his wide-eyed idealism was well-suited for. The film’s not as bad as history suggests -- it’s arguably in the top tier of Grisham adaptations, but it certainly marked a black mark in the career of Francis Ford Coppola, who directs entirely anonymously. “All the Pretty Horses,” meanwhile, promised a good deal, but Billy Bob Thornton didn’t have the directorial chops to pull it off, even before a post-production hackjob by Harvey Weinstein. Finally, as fine as he is the film, no one on staff could summon up the energy to sit through the snooze-fest that is "Invictus" again.

Damon also had a supporting role in Walter Hill’s “Geronimo: An American Legend,” and let’s not forget his debut in the early Julia Roberts vehicle “Mystic Pizza.” He’s also cropped up in a number of Kevin Smith’s films: mostly in cameos, although his biggest role for the ‘filmmaker’ (inverted commas deliberate) was as the psychotic angel Loki in “Dogma.” The film’s an unholy mess, but Damon and BFF Ben Affleck are the best things in it not called Alan Rickman. He’s also good value playing himself, shooting “Good Will Hunting 2: Hunting Season” in “Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back.

Damon’s made something of a habit of cameos; some unlikely (the long-forgotten teen sex comedy “Eurotrip”), some just dull (“Finding Forrester”) and some more creditable -- Damon pops up both as a good-luck charm in both Coppola’s comeback flick “Youth Without Youth” and Steven Soderbergh’s second part of “Che.” Like most stars, he’s lent his voice to animation a handful of times, although never to great success: Miyazaki’s “Ponyo” is the most respectable, certainly against “Titan A.E.” and “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron.”

Finally, Damon’s popped up in TV sitcoms a couple of times, displaying the comic skills he doesn’t always get to play with on the big screen. He camped it up as a would-be chorister in “Will & Grace,” and most recently and far more successfully, killed it as Liz Lemon’s pilot boyfriend Carol Burnett (yes, Carol Burnett...) on “30 Rock.”

Coming up for the actor is further voice work on "Happy Feet 2," Cameron Crowe's "We Bought A Zoo," the seemingly-eternally delayed "Margaret," hopefully Steven Soderbergh's "Liberace" opposite Michael Douglas, and perhaps most excitingly, teaming with "District 9" helmer Neill Blomkamp on the mysterious sci-fi project "Elysium"

Gabe Toro, Katie Walsh, Rodrigo Perez, Kevin Jagernauth, Mark Zhuravsky, Oli Lyttelton, Christopher Bell, Drew Taylor, Cory Everett

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


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