- Simon Garner
Actor of the Week: Matt Damon
As with Tom Hanks, my last Actor of the Week choice, I have chosen someone who starred in a sequence of films I watched recently. Those films being the Jason Bourne films, and that actor therefore being the one and only Matt Damon.
Personally, I was a latecomer to the Bourne films - I simply never got round to seeing them upon release, and have had plenty of films in the queue since! In similar fashion, I was a little late to the sheer quality of Matt Damon’s ability. He is an excellent actor, one who is able to turn his hand to a varied number of roles with great ease and visible success. Damon has been on the scene for years, churning out many classics in that time. It is astounding to think of some of the films he’s starred in, and with that, some of the stellar actors he has worked with. Alongside his acting prowess, he also has impressive writing skills, with Matt most notably penning Good Will Hunting alongside Ben Affleck. This gave Damon and Affleck an Oscar for Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen. It also saw a previous Actor of the Week, Robin Williams, win an Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.
The first film I can consciously remember seeing Matt Damon star in was the classic Saving Private Ryan. A great example of him working with acting greats, it also starred Tom Hanks, another of our AotW winners, as mentioned, and a two-time Oscar winner to boot. Saving Private Ryan is an excellent piece of work, winning five Oscars for various different categories. The film sees a battalion fighting to win a beachfront and gain a foothold. Three brothers, two during the battle for the beach, and one in a separate struggle, are killed in action. Hanks’ Captain Miller is sent, alongside troops from his battalion, to search for the the newly-learned-of fourth Ryan brother and bring him home, to give their mother some much-required good news in the face of tragedy. This film has it all - emotion, gore, tragedy and triumph. It is a must-see if you, somehow, haven’t seen it already. One of the all-time classics, and the quality of Damon, Hanks and others really shines through to elevate it.
I feel it necessary to explore the aforementioned Bourne films a little more. Partly because of how great I found them, albeit later than most, but mainly because they’ve gone down as a great sequence of films. The popularity of these films almost seems cult-like, yet they’re extremely well known and well-received. In The Bourne Identity, Damon plays Jason Bourne, a man discovered alive at sea, suffering from amnesia, and has forgotten everything about who he is as a result. When he comes around, he follows, and subsequently uncovers, clues to piece together who he actually is. He also remembers little details along the way, and realises, in threatening situations, that he is adept at just about every fighting style and self-defense art there is. He meets his soon-to-be accomplice, Marie, and pays her a hefty sum for a lift from country to country to solve the identity puzzle once and for all. The subsequent two films in the initial trilogy, The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum, follow a similar route in terms of uncovering more details about Bourne’s past, but all three are excellent films, and, together, deserve to go down as one of the great trilogies. Damon delivers supreme performances in all three instalments to contribute the most to Bourne’s journey.
Perhaps my favourite film of Damon’s is The Martian. A film of extreme quality, it was nominated for a brilliant seven Academy Awards. The Martian sees Damon’s Mark Watney get stranded on Mars and is presumed dead, after a storm forces his crew to be ruthless and leave him behind. Watney, however, survives in the face of great adversity, using what minimal supplies he has, and, incredibly, calls upon his wit and genius to grow crops in an alien environment. With this genius, he also finds a way to signal to earth that he is, in fact, alive, and a NASA team subsequently pull out all the stops to bring their man, ‘The Martian’, back home to Earth. There’s a rollercoaster of emotions to enjoy with this film. As you can imagine, given the circumstances, there’s a large portion of sympathy for Watney, because the idea of being that far from home with a seemingly small chance of getting back is inherently grim. But intermingled in this is humour and a lot of grit and persistence, and it leads to a great finish.
Another occasion where he worked with outright quality was in 2006’s The Departed. Winning four Oscars, it’s no real surprise when you consider it starred Damon, as well as Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson, Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin, and others - all directed by the legendary Martin Scorsese. A cops vs. the mob thriller, it depicts an undercover police officer and a police mole trying to work each other out whilst dealing with an Irish gang. I can’t imagine there’s many people that haven’t seen this film yet, but if you haven’t, treat yourself!
Damon has been in plenty more films of different varieties during his career, even lending his voice to characters in 2008’s Ponyo and 2011’s Happy Feet Two. Funnily, his turn in The Martian is almost a direct reprisal of his role in Christopher Nolan’s 2014 epic Interstellar, where he plays stranded astronaut Mann, and like Damon, Jessica Chastain also stars in both Interstellar and The Martian. He also worked with another Actor of the Week winner in Matthew McConaughey on Interstellar.
I’ve loved every film I’ve seen Matt Damon in, and am still yet to see one or two of his classics. So here’s to those, and to many more in the future! Thanks a lot, Matt!