Matt Damon’s 10 Most Memorable Perfomances

By October 6, 2015
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With the release of Ridley Scott’s The Martian this past weekend (which is incredible, by the way. If you haven’t seen it yet, go and do that now! I’ll wait!), I decided to take a look back at the career of Matt Damon and choose my ten favorite performances of his. One of the main things to take from this list is his versatility in both the roles he chooses and the way he embodies each of the characters.

matt damon dogma10. The angel Loki – Dogma (1999)

While ultimately this is more of an ensemble piece, the angels Loki and Bartleby (Ben Affleck) are what set the plot in motion. After they are banished from heaven, the two hatch a plot to return via a loophole set up during the rededication of the cathedral in Red Bank, New Jersey. Problem is, if they manage to have their sins absolved, and make their way back to heaven, it will in essence wipe out all of existence. You see, the word of God is fundamental, and this act would overrule it, nullifying everything. Needless to say, others are set out to stop them before they erase all of existence.

What I like about this performance, is it’s completely over the top and fun. This is one of my favorite guilty pleasure films, and once you get past the gross out jokes (like the Golgothan) and Jay, who I can only take in small doses, the film is actually an interesting look at both faith and religion. Affleck and Damon have fun chewing up the scenery as the two angels, but it’s Loki’s determination, reluctance and ultimate change of heart that makes Damon stand out amongst the chaos.

matt damon oceans9. Linus Caldwell – Ocean’s Eleven/Ocean’s Thirteen (we’ll pretend Twelve doesn’t exist) (2001/2007)

Another ensemble piece where Damon shines. As one of Danny Ocean’s gang, Linus is usually the toughest to convince, but the one with the biggest reason to succeed. A highly skilled pickpocket, Linus, has spent most of his life trying to prove himself and move out of his parents’ shadow. He becomes an integral part of Ocean’s operation, but is still always looking for that validation.

It would be easy to get lost in the background in these films, with the likes of George Clooney and Brad Pitt in the mix, but Damon doesn’t. He plays Linus’ insecurities and need of acceptance perfectly, so that you really feel for the guy. You understand where he’s coming from and why he wants to prove himself. He does more than hold his own against everything else that’s going on around him. Linus’ turn in the lead in Ocean’s Thirteen is comedy gold and Damon once again proves he’s adept at just about anything.

matt damon zoo8. Benjamin Mee – We Bought A Zoo (2011)

Based on the memoir of the same name, this Cameron Crowe directed film follows widower Benjamin Mee as he tries to start fresh with his family after his teenage son is expelled from school. When he and his daughter find the perfect house, they’re surprised to realize that it comes with a dilapidated zoo attached. Mee decides to buy everything and restore the zoo and basically – many shenanigans ensue.

What I like about Damon’s performance here is the fact that this was a different side of the actor once again. This was the first time we truly got to see him play a father and a family man, with all of the trials and tribulations that come with raising kids. You know, without the intrigue of a government conspiracy or the threat of a mob cover up hanging over his head. It’s a family film, with everything that that brings with it. His performance as the heartbroken Mee is really something special and he shines in the rather formulaic and predictable film.

matt damon adjustment bureau7. David Norris – The Adjustment Bureau (2011)

Congressman David Norris loses his bid for a senate seat, but meets a lovely stranger who inspires him, leading to an impassioned concession speech, which puts him on track for the 2010 elections. Another chance encounter with the lovely Elise Sellas a month later leads to him actually getting her phone number. Norris is then visited by the Adjustment Bureau, a group sent to make sure everyone sticks to “The Plan.” Unfortunately Norris’ plan doesn’t involve Elise and they destroy her contact information. Norris refuses to give up on Elise and goes against the Bureau, insisting that they both have a right to choose their own paths.

What I love about Damon’s performance here is his skin-tingling chemistry with Emily Blunt. This movie took me by surprise with its thought provoking storyline and breathtaking performances. Damon and Blunt are absolutely magical together and again, we see a different side of Damon. While there is plenty of action, it’s the romantic and religious themes that truly stay with you and it’s great to see Damon be the leading man.

AVEC MATT DAMON6. Rudy Baylor – The Rainmaker (1997)

The story, based on the novel by the same name by John Grisham, sees fledgling attorney Rudy Baylor go from ambulance chaser to taking on a large insurance company for ‘insurance bad faith.’ As the case takes off, he meets and begins a relationship with the married Kelly Riker, which complicates things immensely.

Said to be the most faithful adaptation of one of Grisham’s books, The Rainmaker was really the first film to bring Damon to the forefront as the leading man. His Rudy Baylor is both sympathetic and earnest, leading you to want to believe in him and what he’s doing. Although ultimately over-shadowed by the release of  Good Will Hunting a few weeks later, The Rainmaker is a fantastic first look at the up and coming star.

matt damon bourne5. Jason Bourne – The Bourne Identity (2002)

A man with dissociative amnesia is fished out of the Mediterranean Sea, and so begins the story of CIA agent Jason Bourne and his battle with Treadstone. As Bourne tries to piece together his fragmented memory to get to the truth, he and Marie Helena Kreutz (Franka Potente) make their way through Europe, trying to stay alive and one step ahead of the operatives out to kill them.

With the Bourne franchise, Damon proved that he was not only leading man material, but also a bonafide action star. What sets Jason Bourne apart from the other “action heroes” out there is his ability to make you care about what’s going on. It’s not just about the action; it’s about the character, which is thanks in large part to Damon’s sincere approach. The action is great and all, but it becomes so much more when you are actually invested in the character and the outcome. Damon makes you care.

matt damon school ties4. Charlie Dillon – School Ties (1992)

When senior David Green (Brendan Fraser) gets a football scholarship to the prestigious prep school, St. Matthews, he’s forced to hide the fact that he’s Jewish, or face persecution from his supposed friends and teammates. When the truth eventually comes out, rival Charlie Dillon uses it against David, turning almost everyone against him.

I just love it when the bad guys are played by charismatic actors. Damon brought a vulnerability and insecurity to Charlie that makes you understand where he’s coming from, even though he’s a huge douche and you have absolutely no sympathy for him. This was Damon’s first ‘big break,’ so to speak, and he made the most of it by not only being the character that everyone loves to hate, but by being memorable while doing it.

The Martian featured image3. Mark Watney – The Martian (2015)

Astronaut Mark Watney is presumed dead by his crew mates when a fierce storm hits Mars and they are forced to evacuate. When the dust settles, he is very much alive, but now must find some way to not only contact Earth to let NASA know he’s alive, but to somehow survive until help can arrive.

While the film is full of spectacle, as a film about a manned trip to Mars should be, Damon is the utter heart and soul of it. Watney is courageous and funny, keeping hope alive in the face of immensely insurmountable odds. Damon brings such life to the character that I defy you to not root for him to be rescued. In a film that could have very easily been all about the pomp and circumstance, it’s the performance of the main character that will leave you breathless.

matt damon mr ripley2. Tom Ripley – The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)

Tom Ripley is talented –at forgery, lying and impersonation. Through a case of mistaken identity, he is tasked by wealthy socialite Herbert Greenleaf to go to Europe and convince his son, Dickie, to return to the States. Ripley jumps at the chance and the reward that’s offered. So begins the tale of intrigue, obsession and murder, within the backdrop of 1950’s Europe.

Remember when I said that I love it when charismatic actors play the bad guy? Case in point! This performance by Damon is so creepy and monstrous as Tom Ripley that he makes Charlie Dillon look like a boy scout. But it’s such an understated performance that he keeps you captivated right until the very end. The best villains are always the ones that think they’re the hero, and Damon delivers this with such assuredness that there’s a part of you that really wants him to win.

matt damon good will hunting1. Will Hunting – Good Will Hunting (1997)

Genius Will Hunting is ordered to court mandated therapy when he’s arrested for assault, following an altercation with a bully and a cop. The case seems hopeless, when Will openly mocks both the therapists and therapy in general, so that everyone refuses to work with him. He eventually meets Dr. Sean Maguire (Robin Williams), who from the get go won’t put up with any of his crap. Will finds this interesting and eventually begins to co-operate. The two begin an interesting professional relationship, examining not only what makes Will tick, but how he can better himself in the process.

What can I say that hasn’t already been said about both this movie and the performances? Damon completely embodies the dichotomies of the character; the tough as nails exterior that hides the vulnerable part of him that refuses to be hurt anymore. I defy anyone to watch “It’s not your fault.” and not tear up. While Williams shines in the role as Sean Maguire, it’s the subtly nuanced performance by Damon that gives him the opportunity.

Over his career, Matt Damon has gone from “that guy, who wrote that thing with that other guy,” to Hollywood leading man, by choosing interesting and different projects. He’s more than proven that he’s more than just a pretty face. He’s subtle, yet charismatic, and that’s what makes his roles special and memorable.

The Martian is in theatres now.

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Erin Parisien
Erin is a writer, a comic-book geek, a movie nerd and a pop culture junkie... all long before it was cool! She's the senior Editor and a writer over at SchmoesKnow.com and can always be found behind a keyboard, because it's all about the words. Follow her @erin_the_novel over on twitter.
  • David Johnson

    You list Oceans 11 & 13 thanks for pretending 12 never happened. But You only brought up the 1st Bourne while they all ROCKED!!!! Excellent list, I guess You left out Saving Private Ryan because He was only in the last section?

    • Erin Parisien

      I know, right? And I do agree, all of the Bourne movies rock! I am even in the camp who liked the one with Jeremy Renner, although I’m glad that Damon is coming back to the franchise. And yes, he is amazing in Saving Private Ryan, but I just liked these other performances better! 🙂

      • David Johnson

        Oh yes I couldn’t see anything on Your list that SPR would actually knock off. Can’t back You on the Renner’s Bourne movie they should have just started their own franchise!

        • Erin Parisien

          I get it, but Hollywood is all about the brand recognition these days. And I liked the idea of other programs out there like Treadstone, because you know it wasn’t a one time thing! 🙂