At 36, Matt Damon has the boyish, square-cut good looks of a comic-book hero - the classical kind that doesn't wallow in anxiety or neurosis. He's developed a media persona as an All-American guy for a wised-up age: go-getting and idealistic, but with a hip, wry streak and an iconoclastic attitude toward everything, including his own success.
On talk shows, he projects strength and virtue without feeling the need to lay them out and beg for affirmation. He's not afraid to speak his mind and declare his preferences, as when he proclaimed to Chris Matthews on Monday night's Hardball that Barack Obama was his candidate. He's got a steady gaze and a twinkle in his eye, and even in a phone interview he laughs easily. Asked why he hasn't become a romantic hero, he says, "Hey, I just became a movie father for the first time in Syriana. I've got to knock these things down one at a time."
Damon's relaxed intelligence and humor make him a pleasure to be around even when he's playing heroes or anti-heroes who are tightly wound.
Edward Norton, his co-star in the cult gambling favorite Rounders (1997) - a virtual paean to Damon's poker face - remembers that production as one of the happiest and easiest in his career, and calls Damon, "just a stone-cold good actor. I don't want to say facile - what's the positive word for facile? He's incredibly agile. You can go over here or over there, and he's right with you."
This is one of those rare films that makes emotional as well as intellectual demands on its audience. Francis Coppola reportedly withdrew from the project because he couldn't abide the characters' emotional disengagement. The reward for some will be one of the best screen explications of the goals of America in the world since Coppola's depiction of Cuba as a Mafia birthday cake in The Godfather II.
Damon reaches another career peak as a character as cold-blooded as the murderous opportunist Tom Ripley. Damon is magnificent as a man who surrenders so much of himself in the course of serving his country that by film's end he seems destined to possess few recognizably human traits.