Dear MAtt Damon

Art & Culture

Dear Matt Damon,

I was just talking to someone who met you in Paris while you were filming one of the Bourne films. You used to hang out in the same bar with this guy, and he said you were just an ordinary decent no bullshit kind of bloke. So unlike a film star.

None of which makes any difference to your acting skills, but it’s nice to know. Though on the other hand, your main strength is your ordinary Joe persona which seems to be infinitely adaptable, and all the more credible because it seems to align with reality. Whether you’re playing a gay 19 year old who falls for Liberace, or being an action hero in the soon-to-be-released Elysium, you have a huge advantage over most film stars (eg Will Smith in After Earth  or Tom Cruise in Oblivion) in that you do resemble the kind of person you might meet on the street – or even in a bar.

We have to go back 25 years to find your first film appearance in Mystic Pizza, as well as an unconfirmed slot as an extra in Field Of Dreams, and by 1992, you were getting lead roles in Geronimo, School Ties and – crucially – Courage Under Fire , where you stole the unmemorable film from under the noses of its nominal stars Denzel Washington and Meg Ryan. You played a boyish traumatised young soldier, and were the only credible thing in the movie. And then (in 1997) came the game-changer called Good Will Hunting. 

Co-written with Ben Affleck who you met on School Ties, it was one of those films that defines a career. Writing a role for yourself in a film that goes on to be Oscar-nominated is about as good as it gets. And 15 years later it’s still great to watch even with Robin Williams in full life-affirming mode. From then on, you’ve never looked back. And to follow it up with Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan the following year was just the icing on the cake.

Since then things have gone about as swingingly as is possible, built around two very successful franchises – 3 Oceans films, plus 3 Bourne films – giving you the kind of career ballast most actors can only dream of. This has allowed you the freedom to make the odd flop (The Legend of Bagger Vance) and some curious embarassments (like Stuck On You). But you’ve also made excellent films such as The Talented Mr Ripley – a personal favourite, and one of the few films in which you play a truly amoral and unattractive character who takes on the identity of Jude Law. 

You’ve made films for Scorsese (The Departed), a couple for Clint Eastwood (as an improbable Francois Pienaar in the worthy but dull Invictus, and an even more pointless role in the dreadful Hereafter) as well as Steven Soderbergh (Contagion  and Behind The Candelabra). Aged 42, you’re the first choice for almost any kind of film – action, drama, comedy and sci fi though possibly not costume drama or horror. Terry Gilliam has you in his new film (you also appeared in Terry’s Brothers Grimm), you’re mates with George Clooney (you’re in his new film too), and there really doesn’t seem to be anything out of reach for you. Except.

Except that you’re lack of flash acting technique means that when Oscar time comes around, the name Damon is rarely on the envelope. The difficulty is that you make tough things look easy. You seem to be playing slight adaptations of your real self, and there is no sign of the kind of thespian histrionics that attract Academy voters. Still, you can’t have it both ways, and life is pretty good. Maybe they’ll give you an Honorary Oscar when you’re 80.

Phil Raby

Front Row Films

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