Matt Damon's Best Movies Aren't His Most Talked About Movies & There Might Be A Reason For That
The notions of “great actor” and “huge movie star” are by no means incompatible, but are often treated as such. We distinguish blockbuster cinema from Oscar fare, and, consequently, the actors who occupy each realm of film from one another. Naturally, the line is blurred with it comes to a few Hollywood power players: Names that spring to mind include Brad Pitt, Scarlett Johansson, and The Martian star Matt Damon. So profoundly attached are we to the image of Damon as a venerable acting talent that we’ve already begun attributing awards buzz to his upcoming outer space picture. But why don't Matt Damon's most underrated movies get similar buzz?
This seems to be how we treat the lot of Damon’s blockbuster work: His Bourne movies, his Oceans pictures, and The Departed (which, if we’re being honest, fits much more snugly in the category of madcap action thrill ride than it does among fellow Best Picture winners). The world talks only of efforts like these, ditto his breakout role in Good Will Hunting, when citing the big screen charisma of Damon. Surely we cannot discredit the actor for elevating pieces that might, in weaker hands, crumble in the face of countless indecipherable peers. But why, if we’re so committed to espousing the performing prowess of Matt Damon, don’t we ever talk about any of his really good movies? A better question, perhaps: Does he have any?
In discussion of the talents and legacies of species like Pitt and Johansson, we hit the actors’ complete spectrums. We just as willingly cite Lost in Translation in the illustration of Johansson’s Hollywood identity as we do her Marvel output; the considerably more storied Pitt offers ready allusions to pop grandeur (the Oceans films and Fight Club), muscled schmaltz (Thelma & Louise or Benjamin Button), and kooky character acting (Snatch. and Burn After Reading), as well as the really terrific stuff (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and Tree of Life).
But for some reason, Damon, despite public connotation as “one of the greats,” is rarely mentioned in the company of the kind of efforts that people generally associate with great acting. Beneath Damon’s most celebrated projects, deeper down, immersed in more obscurity, are collaborations with Steven Soderbergh. The television movie Beyond the Candelabra, the heavy thriller Contagion, and — perhaps Damon’s very best performance to date — The Informant! Despite exemplifying greater dramatic acrobatics, comic acumen, and physical commitment than any of Damon’s other screen endeavors, The Informant! remains top tier work from he who we so often decree one of today’s greatest treasures.
So how can we logically compromise lauding a figure as such while adhering attention only to two or three of his bigger, broader pictures, and little else? Why do we get excited about every Matt Damon movie to hit theaters when the very best of his entries are so seldom openly celebrated?
Perhaps it comes from the ubiquity of Damon's offscreen presence, which, save for the events of the past few weeks, has always been garnished with notions of sophistication and artistry. Maybe Damon's philanthropic endeavors have allowed us to attach esteem onto projects that we'd, rightfully or not, have otherwise graded as standard blockbuster fare. Or just maybe a talent like Damon's allows us to drop this damaging idea of big movies being lesser movies, and to accept skillful writing, acting, and direction of any kind as just that.
Maybe Damon is the kind of actor who'll make way for a more open Academy, one that would indeed grant accolade to a deserving picture, no matter the genre. Then again, I suppose we'll just have to wait and see.
Images: 20th Century Fox; Universal Pictures; Warner Bros.