This piece was originally published October 08, 2018 and is part of The A.V. Club’s favorite features of 2018
Matt Damon has a lot of friends. From his auspicious beginnings charming ’90s Hollywood to his A-list blockbuster present, the Oscar-winning actor has been racking up enough cinematic mates to field both sides of a World Cup rugby match. While the Bourne series frequently sees him striking out on his own, more often than not, if Damon’s up on screen, he’s hanging with his guys (and the occasional lady, too). And he’s got a lot of them. There’s a trio of Boston bros, a monster-battling soldier, and an ex-con dealing from the bottom of the deck. There’s a band of brothers, a one-eyed outlaw, and a baker’s dozen of thieves. There are friends with money, friends with guns, and friends with such enviable lives that he tries to take them as his own. He’s got fellow men in uniform, a whole colony’s worth of very, very little people, and, yes, even the world leader who would end apartheid. In celebration of our favorite Harvard dropout’s 48th birthday, we give you 11 movies in which Matt Damon kicks it with some old comrades or finds a few new familiars. Turns out the friends Matt Damon made along the way were... the friends Matt Damon made along the way.
Good Will Hunting (1997)
As with so many phenomena, this whole thing started at the beginning. Good Will Hunting was not only Matt Damon’s breakout film, it also established his love affair with friendship. Damon’s MIT-janitor genius Will has a whole car-load of Southie buddies who he boozes and busts heads with. Real-life bestie Ben Affleck, playing Will’s number one boy, is the emotional anchor among the rough-neck crew, who knows that sometimes the best thing you can do for a friend is let him go. But Damon’s greatest fictional friendship here might be that forged with grieving therapist Sean (an Oscar-winning Robin Williams). Hugs, crying, an emotional monologue on a park bench—this pair has it all.
Are they still friends? As the credits roll, Will’s heading west to “see about a girl,” and we’re guessing he’s not the greatest pen pal, but we can see him sending Sean the occasional postcard or calling on the guys whenever he’s back in Boston. [Laura Adamczyk]
Sometimes friendships can get you into trouble, even if you’re Matt Damon. In dorm-room favorite Rounders, Damon is a poker savant trying to play it straight in law school. Enter fast-talking ex-con Worm (Edward Norton), who needs his old schoolmate’s help stirring up some scratch to settle his gambling debts—and fast, as the “juice” has been running while he’s been gone. More devil on his shoulder than trusted confidant, the underhanded, sleazy-’70s-shirt-wearing Worm pulls Mike back into a world of dangerously high bets (and a Russian mobster named KGB!), before Mike has to pull away from his slick pal for good.
Are they still friends? Nope. Worm runs when things get hot, leaving Mike to finish the final hand, and deal with his own vices, solo. [Laura Adamczyk]
Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Saving Private Ryan is, among other things, the story of a rag-tag group of young men who are forced into service as Matt Damon’s greatest possible friends. In a surprise performance not revealed until the final act, Damon plays the titular Private Ryan, the last surviving son of a family of soldiers. Tom Hanks leads a cast of future stars sent to rescue Ryan and bring him home, illustrating their friendship by standing by him as he protects a tactically important bridge in the film’s climactic battle.
Are they still friends? While many of Damon’s new and old friends perish in said battle, a soft fade shifts to an old Matt Damon paying tribute at their graves. So yeah, definitely still friends, albeit from beyond the grave. [Clayton Purdom]
The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
Shortly after his good-guy roles in Good Will Hunting and Saving Private Ryan, Matt Damon took a turn for the dark as the title character in The Talented Mr. Ripley. On the sun-drenched beaches of Italy, Tom, a poor washroom attendant, finds the kind of well-off friends he’s only dreamed of: luminous Dickie (Jude Law), welcoming Marge (Gwyneth Paltrow), and besotted Peter (Jack Davenport). But when Dickie tires of Tom’s clingy devotion, Tom kills him in a fit of rejection-fueled rage, then goes on to impersonate him. His desperation to hang onto this hallowed social circle causes him to craft mountains of deceit, his list of victims growing longer and longer.
Are they still friends? He killed most of them, so no. Plus, Marge becomes convinced he’s a murderer, and poor new love Meredith (Cate Blanchett) doesn’t even know his real name—she still thinks he’s Dickie. [Gwen Ihnat]
Ocean’s Eleven (2001)
At the film’s beginning, pickpocket Linus seems lonely riding the trains of Chicago, away from the glamour of Las Vegas and the group of 10 hip dudes he will later befriend in Ocean’s Eleven. Matt Damon’s aw-shucks charisma makes him an ideal man to play the role of outsider, the young new guy brought in to contribute to the film’s elaborate heist—and earn respect and friendships along the way. After some congenial hazing, Linus is accepted as part of the group, and later proves himself by the foresight he shows in bringing spare batteries to the great robbery, which turns out to be a crucial contribution to securing the $160 million.
Are they still friends? Linus reunites with his cool criminal cadre two more times, in Ocean’s Twelve and Ocean’s Thirteen, racking up even more friends. Although he once more receives gentle ribbing from George Clooney’s Danny Ocean in Ocean’s Twelve, he also once more proves himself—with the harebrained scheme to pass Julia Roberts’ character off as… Julia Roberts. His role in Ocean’s 13 is far less savory, but doesn’t seem to compromise his friendships. [Caitlin PenzeyMoog]
Stuck On You (2003)
What if the truest friendship was right there beside you all along? That’s about as literally true as it can be in the Farrelly brothers’ Stuck On You, starring Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear as conjoined twins Bob and Walt Tenor. Bob’s an introvert with a pen pal girlfriend who doesn’t know the truth about his...close relationship with his brother. Walt’s an extrovert with major acting aspirations. They run a successful small-town restaurant together, but each pine for the possibility of separate lives.
Are they still friends? Yes, even after taking a big, risky step towards mutual independence. Turns out nothing can sever the true-blue bond shared by these mismatched brothers. [A.A. Dowd]
Clint Eastwood gives the end of apartheid the Remember The Titans treatment in Invictus, effectively distilling South African race relations down to the budding friendship between a rugby player and the president of the country. As Springboks captain Francois Pienaar, Matt Damon sports a prosthetic nose and a dubious accent, while Morgan Freeman plays Nelson Mandela with warmth and humility. An invitation to tea at the capital leads to Pienaar and Mandela—who are both referred to as “captains”—becoming increasingly chummy as they talk diplomacy and defensive tactics. Over the course of Invictus’ 133 minutes, Matt Damon only makes one friend, but it’s Nelson Mandela, which means it’s time well spent.
Are they still friends? In real life, Mandela became godfather to Pienaar’s two sons, so yes (Damon and Freeman close out the film amiably, too). Let this be a lesson to you: Win a World Cup, and make a lifetime friend out of a head of state. [Danette Chavez]
True Grit (2010)
The central relationship of True Grit develops between level-headed but vengeful teen Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) and Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), the lawman turned outlaw turned restaurateur in her employ. The fatherless girl and trigger-happy old codger earn each other’s respect and trust while in pursuit of the man who killed Mattie’s dad, but they make room for Matt Damon as a pompous Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf (which frequently becomes “LaBeef,” thanks to Rooster’s utter lack of respect for him). Despite having the backing of the entire state of Texas, LaBoeuf is the low man in this posse. But Damon’s genial on-screen presence wins him some tolerance.
As they still friends? Despite having bonded over campfires and killing outlaws, the trio permanently disbands after Mattie gets justice (or vengeance, if you prefer). [Danette Chavez]
The Monuments Men (2014)
What ripe old age does Matt Damon have to reach before he can stop playing the baby brother? James Granger, his character in The Monuments Men, is safely past the big 4-0, but he’s still a spring chicken—some might say a Monuments Boy—compared to most of the other members of his outfit, a team of aging academics sent behind enemy lines during World War II to steal back precious artworks pillaged by the Nazis. Granger actually ends up spending most of his time in Europe rendezvousing with a French museum curator played by Cate Blanchett, but the junior agent reconnects with his AARP-aged teammates later on for some old-school camaraderie and misadventure, emphasis on the old.
Are they still friends? The movie doesn’t say if this real-life geek squad kept in touch after returning from the war. Recovering some of mankind’s greatest achievements sounds like a solid foundation for lifelong friendship, though maybe everyone dodged the reunions to avoid more endless speeches on the importance of art by team leader and resident gasbag George Clooney. [A.A. Dowd]
The Great Wall (2017)
The Great Wall is a movie largely concerned with a gigantic wall and a possibly fictitious alien army attempting to lay siege to it. Located within the eye-popping CG spectacle, though, is a man—a man named Matt Damon, fighting like hell to do a convincing Irish accent, to aid in this intergalactic struggle, and to maybe make a friend or two along the way. He is successful, first via an odd-couple pairing with Pero Tovar (Pedro Pascal), a fellow survivor of a monster attack, and then with Lin Mae (Jing Tian), a leader of the Nameless Order, which exists to fight the alien monsters. Lin even goes so far as to free Damon’s character, William, from a prison inside the Great Wall, a favor Damon repays by rescuing Lin, in turn, from being eaten by a monster. It’s a weird movie.
Are they still friends? Very much so. William and Lin discover a battlefield rapport that helps end the alien menace with finality, and, in the movie’s conclusion, William chooses to bring Tovar home with him, as only a true friend would. [Clayton Purdom]
In this not great movie, Matt Damon plays a regular joe named Paul, who lives in a world wherein people, in order to increase their personal wealth and help solve overpopulation, have begun “downsizing” themselves to just 5 inches tall. When Paul’s wife has a last-minute change of heart over getting shrunk, a little Matt Damon is left with some big melancholy in the miniaturized community of Leisure Land. But little does he know that when you “get small” you also get friends. He finds a buddy close to home in his smarmy party boy neighbor Dušan (Christoph Waltz), but it’s Vietnamese dissident Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau) who gets close to his heart. They strike up a friendship checking in on the less fortunate of Leisure Land, but as these things often go, in Downsizing’s third act, their friendship becomes the kind where you also have sex.
Are they still friends? If you consider your girlfriend/boyfriend/wife/husband/partner/etc. your best friend, then yes. [Laura Adamczyk]