8. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
In the title role of this World War II epic, Matt Damon brings depth and emotion to a film that is already oozing both of those qualities. Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump; Castaway) stars in the lead role as Captain Miller, whose mission is to head to the frontlines of the war and find Damon’s Ryan to give him the news that each of his three brothers have passed away as a result of warfare, and that the US government has therefore offered him a pardon.
Director Steven Spielberg wanted the relationship between Private James Ryan and the rescue battalion led by Captain Miller to be authentically hostile, and as such Damon was spared a gruelling 10 day pre-production training camp that the rest of the film’s lead actors were instructed to go on. The result is a strong shift in tone as the battalion finally reach their target, Damon’s All-American youthful charm seeming somewhat dismissive to the gruelling journey we have been on with the soldiers.
In a touching moment that helps us to acquaint ourselves with Private Ryan, Hanks and Damon share a scene in which Damon adlibs a funny story about his brothers, the young actor not only establishing himself opposite one of the very best in the industry, but bringing into perspective the personal tragedy that had befell his character, and thus contextualising the wider war.
7. Behind the Candelabra (2013)
Matt Damon stars as Scott Thorson opposite Michael Douglas’ Liberace in this glamorous telling of the real life couple’s toxic six year relationship.
Damon adorns a bouffant blonde wig and various facial prosthetics (which increase as the film progresses) whilst portraying Liberace’s young lover Scott. It’s a truly emotional performance despite the frills of the film – Thorson’s life was completely manipulated by Liberace’s demands, and as a vulnerable young man he couldn’t escape it, something that Damon has to wrestle into every aspect of his performance.
Steven Soderbergh directs this gruelling love story with Damon at the helm, proving that the duo’s professional partnership has always been one to watch ever since they first worked together on Ocean’s 11 in 2001.
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6. Le Mans ’66 (Ford v Ferrari) (2019)
James Mangold directs this biographical drama centred around the 1966 ’24 hour of Le Mans’ – the most gruelling motor race in the world.
American car designer Carol Shelby (Matt Damon) is the only American driver to date to have won the Le Mans. Shelby fights for friend and British engineer Ken Miles (Christian Bale – The Dark Knight Trilogy) to be the next driver for Ford as the competition between Ford and rival car designers Ferrari builds. Miles is known for his short temper and aggressive demeanour, yet Shelby sees greatness in him and pushes him to race against Enzo Ferrari in a bid for Ford to win the Le Mans once again.
Damon embodies the passion that Shelby has for the race whilst also being humble in his friendship with Miles, the true gravity of Damon’s performance coming in the moments of fear and anxiety presented when his character’s car is travelling at high speed or there’s a crash (in testing or on the track).
Although Le Mans ’66 is mostly about the racing, the Oscar-nominated film has some touching and emotional moments that Damon and Bale present admirably, showcasing the passion and importance of the sport.
Recommended for you: What ‘Le Mans 66’ Gets Right That Other Motorsport Films Did Not