Matt Damon is now a well-established actor with credentials to floor anyone that might be interested in hiring him. Not to mention that he is a favorite of the fans due to his unique “attitude” and how he seems to fit in roles that require a sufficiently high degree of cool.
But, as is always the case with actors, there were times when he was what the other more experienced ones would call an up-start. Sure, some people might have seen potential in him early on, maybe way before everybody else caught on, but as a natural course in any actor's career, there was a period when he was trying to make a name for himself.
And boy, did he manage to. Let's take a look at 6 iconic Matt Damon roles.
1. Will Hunting
It's only fair to mention this one right off the bat, as it is possibly his most well-known performance, in the 1997 Good Will Hunting movie. And for good reason.
Because he did a masterful job of playing the socially reclusive, eccentric genius that was disinterested in what most people would call worthy challenges (because he was smart enough to solve anything he applied himself to) and mocked and lashed out at everybody, until he met a man who could earn his respect and guide him towards finding what was important to him, not others (love).
Of course, it mattered that man, professor Sean Maguire, was played by Robin Williams, who received an Oscar for the performance. But it was Matt Damon who took center piece and really shined, surprising many in the audience with the strength of the performance from a young actor.
2. Tom Ripley
The main character from The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999), this role shows Matt Damon performing just as well in a non-glamorous context. Because there's not much to like about Ripley. On the contrary, Matt Damon's job was to portray as well as he could a character that is clearly deranged, and has no qualms about breaking any form of moral boundary as long as it suits his purpose, which includes murdering and taking advantage of others.
Couple that with the fact that the character is charismatic, which aids him in his endeavors, and you get a pretty demanding performance. That Matt Damon dealt with admirably, being praised for his great and before then unknown range of emotions that he could express (yes, even taking into account Good Will Hunting).
3. Linus Caldwell
If by the time Ocean's Eleven rolled out in 2001 there weren't any more doubts about Matt Damon's skill as an actor, it was still a challenge for him to star in this movie because he shared the screen with more experienced actors who are big big names at a time when Matt Damon wasn't yet confirmed as one of the “greats” himself.
The movie featured George Clooney, Elliott Gould, Brad Pitt, Andy Garcia and Julia Roberts, to name a few. Yet Matt Damon managed to act all his scenes flawlessly, without breaking a sweat. As if he belonged among such names. Which, in retrospect, everyone agreed he did.
But you can imagine the pressure of performing in such a context.
4. Jason Bourne
Though there was enough action in Ocean's Eleven, it was not really an all out action movie, due to its fundamentally cerebral nature. In other words, the focus was on the schemes that Ocean and company put together and the challenges they would present, so a pretty intellectual perspective on crime.
Plus, it surely can't be said that Matt Damon's role in the movie can be characterized as an action role because, just like the movie in its entirety, it's more of a hybrid between thriller, comedy and drama.
The Bourne Identity (2002) however is an action movie by definition. And Matt Damon stars as the protagonist, Jason Bourne. It's the role that “certified” him as an action hero as well, apart from the range of acting skill he had displayed until then.
As Jason Bourne, Matt Damon portrays a man who has no memory at all when he wakes up after being literally plucked to safety from the sea where he was floating with several bullet wounds. The movie than follows his quest to find out who he is, why he seems to just be very good at fighting and other skills (which hint at intense training as an agent, assassin or soldier) and more importantly, why there are people out to kill him, including some secret services.
5. Colin Sullivan
The Departed (2006) takes Matt Damon's talents and makes good use of them by allowing him, through the role of corrupt cop Colin Sullivan, to show a powerful yet subtle portrait of human desperation stemming from bad decisions taken in the past.
As Colin was helped by the Mafia as a child and adolescent, even facilitating his entrance to the Police academy, when he graduates he is indebted to them. In the form of being their inside man in the police.
Though he is not fundamentally evil, the movie does show all the ugly manifestations of such a person who will do anything to avoid danger and harm to himself. Even if it means betraying a colleague, the honest cop Billy Costigan (played by Leonardo Di Caprio), tasked with infiltrating the Mafia.
6. Mark Watney
As you probably know, with all the hype it gathered around it, The Martian was released this year, at the beginning of October.
And the whole movie revolves around Mark Watney, an astronaut from a mission to Mars who due to an accident caused by a powerful storm gets left behind on Mars and presumed dead, while his colleagues are forced to take of and return to Earth.
Matt Damon plays Mark Watney who is forced to use every ounce of intelligence, scientific knowledge and physical energy to survive on the barren planet long enough to signal NASA that he is still alive and then long enough to be rescued by them.
The character of Mark Watney is a complex one, with normal strong human emotions flowing underneath the mask of cool calm, efficiency and relaxed humor that he displays as he keeps these emotions in rigorous control so that they don't get in the way of his survival.
But throughout the movie, Matt Damon succeeds in letting the audience have just the right amount of a sneak view at the man dealing with huge levels of fatigue, constant anxiety and outright fear in his total isolation and struggle to survive.
As for the cool, cocky, humorous part, needless to say he carries it very well, as he carries the whole movie.