Total Recall: Matt Damon's Best Movies
We count down the best-reviewed work of the Green Zone star.
Since his career breakout with Good Will Hunting in 1997, Matt Damon has won an Academy Award, worked for some of the finest directors (and alongside some of the most talented actors) in Hollywood, and proved his mettle as a dramatic actor, gifted screen comic, and steely action hero. But he's never been given the Total Recall treatment -- so in honor of Matt's latest release, the Iraq War thriller Green Zone, we decided to rifle through the Damon filmography and take a closer look at the 10 most critically successful entries -- an assortment of goodies so strong that Ocean's Eleven just misses. Which of your favorites made the cut? Which ones have the critics blasphemously overlooked? There's only one way to find out!
Even before the closing shot faded out on The Bourne Identity, moviegoers knew the door was wide open for a sequel -- not only was there a whole slew of Robert Ludlum novels waiting to be adapted, but Identity was almost two hours' worth of pulse-pounding, adrenaline-soaked action and intrigue. What no one could have counted on was just how solid a sequel The Bourne Supremacy would turn out to be. Drawing Damon's amnesia-addled assassin out of retirement for another round of beating bad guys senseless with whatever happens to be nearby, Supremacy furthered the Jason Bourne saga with a storyline that was about more than just making more money. As Peter T. Chattaway of Christianity Today observed, "Where it could have descended into a revenge drama, it settles for justice instead -- and not the kind that puts down one's enemies, but the kind that calls for confession, even reconciliation."
As conceived by author Patricia Highsmith, Tom Ripley is a deeply unsavory character -- a psychopath who uses his natural charm and malfunctioning moral compass as the gateway into a lavish lifestyle built on lies, theft, and murder. Not the kind of role you'd expect to go to a wholesome-looking fellow like Matt Damon, in other words -- but that's part of what made Damon's performance in Anthony Minghella's The Talented Mr. Ripley so profoundly disquieting. Capable of communicating bottomless need, desperate rage, and cold calculation in a single scene, Damon proved his range was far greater than many may have suspected. "We all knew Damon was a fine actor after Good Will Hunting," wrote Jeffrey Westhoff of the Northwest Herald, "but The Talented Mr. Ripley takes him much further much faster than anyone could have expected."
It seems laughable now, but before The Bourne Identity reached theaters, there were a lot of people who didn't think Matt Damon had what it took to be a convincing action hero. Those doubts were quickly erased with director Doug Liman's sleek, powerful adaptation of the Robert Ludlum novel -- a huge box office hit that was powered with equal parts explosive set pieces and a solid central performance by its star. As it turned out, Damon had not only the dramatic chops to realistically portray the fear and confusion of an amnesiac who slowly begins to realize he's a lethal assassin, but the physical presence to make audiences believe he could kill a man with a pen. The beginning of a trilogy so successful that many fans don't think three films is enough, Bourne provided smart popcorn entertainment for critics like Peter Keough of the Boston Phoenix, who quipped, "Who needs an identity when you're having this much fun?"
Think you're committed to your job? Try being Matt Damon in preparation for Courage Under Fire. For his role as Specialist Ilario, Damon dropped 40 pounds, adopting a grueling training regimen that had him running miles a day and subsisting on a diet consisting of little more than cigarettes and coffee. It was not, as you might imagine, a decision popular with Damon's doctors -- or, more importantly, his body, which required no small amount of medical repair after shooting ended. But all's well that ends well, and Edward Zwick's Rashomon-style Gulf War drama helped Damon break the dry spell he'd been suffering since nabbing a role in 1993's Geronimo: An American Legend. Oh, and the critics liked it too -- critics like Steve Rhodes, who called it "An extremely moving picture that left me with my heart racing and my arms clutching myself and staring at the screen."
The idea of a director as accomplished as Francis Ford Coppola bringing his talent to bear on an adaptation of a John Grisham novel might seem offensive to some cinemaphiles, but at least in the case of 1997's The Rainmaker, it proved a match made in critical heaven. Damon stars here as Rudy Baylor, a young and (at least temporarily) naive law school grad who ends up filing a lawsuit against a shady insurance company, and he's in very good company, surrounded by a supporting cast that includes Danny DeVito, Jon Voight, Roy Scheider, Mickey Rourke, and Claire Danes. Critics might have gone in expecting something that would live down to Grisham's lowbrow reputation, but they came away pleasantly surprised -- as Madeleine Williams of Cinematter observed, "With numerous entertaining subplots, plenty of well thought-out characters, brought to life by talented actors, and an invigorating trial, what more do you want from a Grisham film?"