WEIRDLAND: Matt Damon, Identities & Noirish Subjectivity

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Matt Damon, Identities & Noirish Subjectivity

"Rounders" (1998): Matt Damon's first lead following the success of "Good Will Hunting," "Rounders" was mostly ignored on its debut, but has evolved into something of a cult hit over the years. The actor plays Mike, a poker whiz who's promised his girlfriend (Gretchen Mol) that he'll give the game up and focus on his law school studies. But when his no-good best pal Worm (Edward Norton) is released from prison, he's dragged back into gambling to save his pal from the sinister Russian mobster Teddy KGB (a ludicrously enjoyably over-the-top John Malkovich), the same man who ended Mike's career years earlier.

While it's beloved most by poker fans (it's probably the best depiction of the game to date), the film in general is firmly entertaining -- director John Dahl gives a terrific noirish tinge to the film, the script is zingy, and most of the performances -- Norton and John Turturro in particular -- are excellent.

“The Talented Mr. Ripley” (1999): It would have been just too easy for Matt Damon to trade in on his matinee idol good looks and collect paychecks for action movies and rom-coms. Instead, he pushes himself to physically disappear into his psychologically complex roles, using physical characteristics -- a paunch, a crew cut or a pair of horn-rimmed glasses -- as his entry into such enigmatic characters. His glasses are the totem of Tom the imposter in “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” the transformative role as the insidious grifter that announced Damon as a serious thesp, no vain pretty boy. He’s made a practice of playing characters in identity crisis (“Good Will Hunting,” ‘Bourne,’ “The Informant!”) and ‘Ripley,’ was one of the first times he displayed his true virtuosity in embodying this conundrum.

Damon’s most indelible characters are always striving to achieve some station in life that is almost impossible for them to gain, and Tom Ripley is the ultimate showcase for his ability to display the many emotional states of such nuanced, complicated people. He is simultaneously dorky, naive, seductive, hopeless, creepy and terrifying in Anthony Minghella’s adaptation of the Patricia Highsmith novel; the different emotions effortlessly cascading across his face.

“The Departed" (2006): While far from Scorsese's best work, "The Departed" remains a well-crafted, hugely enjoyable pulp crime flick, that certainly improves on its subject matter, the Hong Kong film "Infernal Affairs." The film's chock-full of pleasures and Damon's performance, while not the most immediate, is the one that lingers long afterwards. Simply put, he's astounding, the best he's ever been, and looking back now, it's astonishing that he was overlooked in awards season in favor of co-star Mark Wahlberg.

Damon effortlessly portrays the self-loathing and turmoil that comes from living a false life without any of the histrionics of his co-lead, Leonardo DiCaprio. The elevator scene at the end, in which Damon switches on a dime from self-righteous bravado to pathetically pleading to be put out of his misery by his captor, is a masterclass in screen acting.

“The Good Shepherd” (2006): Told through the prism of the founding of the CIA, Damon plays Edward Wilson, an agent of the newly founded organization whose work takes him around the world and has him bear witness to operations most Americans could and would never know about.

But the film is as much about the machinations of the wheelings and dealings of the spy agency as the personal sacrifice Damon must make as a person and in his relationships (particularly to his wife played by Angelina Jolie). As William Hurt’s character points out, the agents spend their lives looking over their shoulders for "pennies" in compensation. Wilson is forced to choose between his country and his family and the cold realization is that such a choice can’t be made because selecting one means losing the other. Damon here is a revelation, coldly embodying a spy who at work and at home can’t give away the roiling emotion beneath his poker-faced facade. It’s a stirring turn in a film that that was largely misunderstood.

Matt Damon and Mark Whitacre attend "The Informant!" New York premiere on September 15, 2009 in New York City.

“The Informant!” (2009): Damon has never been funnier than as Mark Whitacre, the delusional whistleblower who broke open a price-fixing scheme at his lysine-producing company, under the illusion that he was a top secret spy. “The Informant!” establishes Whitacre as someone who thinks there are prizes for “being the good guy,” oblivious to the reality around him. Steven Soderbergh’s tone is mostly amused farce, as if the delicate balance of real-world big business and the cartoonish sight of overweight Midwestern rube Whitacre is always threatening to topple.

Credit to Damon’s overlooked performance, a wonder of tics and mannerisms of surprising depth, capturing a damaged psyche while keeping him in the realm of believable folksiness.

“True Grit” (2010): It's not the showiest or even the most nuanced character in the Coen Brothers' rapturous "True Grit" remake, but Damon's dickish Texas Ranger LeBoeuf still manages to be an indelible oddball. Between his typically Texan self-aggrandizing (this writer was born and raised in the state, so this especially rung true), the marble-mouthed cadence that he adopts after he's partially bitten off his tongue, and his combination of heroic tendencies and borderline cowardice, Damon makes the role totally unforgettable. Source: blogs.indiewire.com

"Basically, everyone is a victim of corporate crime before they finish breakfast," Whitacre tells an FBI agent (Scott Bakula), who says, "That's not a business meeting, that's a crime scene." Soderbergh wanted The Informant! to go down the rabbit hole of Whitacre's mystifying mind. As Damon embodies him, he seems the sunniest symbol of corporate America and middle America: smart, pleasant, undemonstrative, with a supportive wife (Melanie Lynskey) and two kids. But we get the earliest glimpses of Mark's gift for fooling people, and perhaps himself, in the movie's voiceover, in which Mark wanders blithely into logical cul-de-sacs and exotic trivia: The whole movie is Mark's brainscan. It's shot and acted in a bland style that, you only eventually realize, is deeply askew, and darkly, corrosively satirical. What game, exactly, is Whitacre playing? Whose side is he on? How much of what he, or the film, says is true? Source: www.time.com

Part V - Identities in Film Noir (Film Noir and Subjectivity by Christophe Gelly): Sarah Kozloff insists on the predominance of the narrators’ voice-over comment as an authority to which the film narration must be referred. However, it is also possible to interpret these character discourses as narrations competing with the framing narrative voice. These multiple voices demonstrate the instability of the narrative pattern. In demanding that viewers ascribe voice-over narration to several separate narrative agencies, the variability of the “subject” to which the voice-over attaches is foregrounded. As well as these multiple voices, Kozloff identifies a “most unusual rhetoric strategy” in the “narrator’s habit of addressing comments to the characters, as if he were off to the side, watching every move they make and reacting with teasing questions, or advice to which they are oblivious.”

This technique further blurs the voice-over status as within and/or without the story, and it points to the film’s reflexivity, and – as Kozloff notes – shows the narration to be conscious of its own artificial, unrealistic nature. She argues that the identification between voice-over and the viewer through various “humanizing” devices (narrator’s voice-over comments, addresses to the characters on screen) may mimic what viewers themselves may very well feel towards the story. Yet the transgressively unstable status of this voice-over, both homodiegetic and heterodiegetic, further enhances the subjective riddle it represents for the reader. The concept of subjectivity as individual is problematized in film noir aesthetics as it cannot help integrating other elements within this identity.

Film noir is always constituted of heterogeneous elements: the subjective expression of a character’s feelings or confession along, however, with a doubt as to the source of these feelings in the enunciation; its aesthetic features present in their original identity but integrated within a commercial frame. Similarly, the modernist literary movement occupies a position that is in-between aesthetic elitism and popular culture. As J.P. Telotte argues, “Neo-noir seem[s] less about a character than about the very mechanisms of character in which we invest so much.” -"A Companion to Film Noir" (2013) by Andrew Spicer & Helen Hanson

2 comments :

Books and Manuals said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often..

rachelle madrigal
www.imarksweb.org

Elena W said...

You're welcome, Rachelle, thanks for visiting!