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Matt Damon Vs. Jeremy Renner

And now, the action spectacular you've been waiting for.

By James Brady Ryan

The Contestants

This Friday marks the release of the fourth movie in the Bourne franchise, The Bourne Legacy, and the first without Matt Damon as rogue agent Jason Bourne; Jeremy Renner is taking the reins. We may not get to see these two physically fight it out on screen, but we can pit them against one another with their best and worst roles.

The Best

Good Will Hunting

Obviously. Damon's charm helped round out a character who, let's face it, could have been off-putting. He even managed to sell that "How do you like them apples" thing, which... is not really a good comeback. (If you have to set up your own rejoinder, it's not actually witty.) But Damon's wounded soulfulness is palpable throughout the movie. Some of the film feels a bit hokey today, but the scene of Will's breakdown in the face of his childhood abuse is still touching.

The Talented Mr. Ripley

One of the first films to suggest that Damon can work well outside of the pretty-boy mold, The Talented Mr. Ripley finds him playing a pretty boy...who is fucking insane. Tom Ripley is a brilliant sociopath, and Damon plays his evolution from hapless wannabe to cold-blooded serial killer at just the right pace. At the start of the film, he's basically your weird roommate — the one who suggests you get matching tattoos after a month, or asks if he can borrow your underwear. And yet Damon makes it completely believable that such an odd duck can become the suave, cultured (though still crazy) man we see at the end of the film. It should go without saying that his Ripley is alluring (minus the psychopathy): just watch his performance of "My Funny Valentine."

The Informant!

Damon's talent for convincingly playing two very different sides of one person is exactly what Steven Soderbergh needed for The Informant!, a movie that begins as a comedy about a would-be whistleblower who finds himself in over his head. By the end, though, it's a painful look at a man suffering from an undiagnosed mental illness. (Yeah, you never saw that coming from the wacky trailer.) Damon can be hilarious, especially when playing dorks, and he holds his own against noted funny people like Joel McHale and Patton Oswalt. But the slide into the darker side of Mark Whitacre's psyche never feels forced; it's more like a glimpse behind the curtain of manic laughs at the frightened man making the jokes.

The Hurt Locker

Obviously. The Hurt Locker is the movie that put Renner on most people's radars. In a movie that is often unbearably tense — it's about diffusing bombs, after all — it helps to have a character like Sgt. William James, who's cocky and roguish and funny even in the middle of a war zone. Of course, we all know this character: the bad boy who is using a devil-may-care attitude to cover up his emotional pain. But Renner refuses to let his character become a type. Sure, all the aforementioned obvious stuff is there, but there's also tenderness, intelligence, and even some grace. Plus, the man can work an army uniform.

The Town

When Matt Damon steals on film, it's all tailored suits and gentlemanly gamesmanship. When Renner steals on film? He's going to put on a terrifying mask, hit you in the face with a semi-automatic, and grab as much cash as he can. His fiery turn as Boston bank robber Jem Coughlin earned Renner his second Academy Award nomination, and rightly so: it's hard to take your eyes off of Renner, who captures the aura of unease that surrounds a violent man with no desire to change his ways. Renner nails the balance between Jem's deeply ingrained fuck-you attitude and a sort of resigned calm about his inevitable fate, especially in the firefight that ends with his bloody death. His time on screen bubbles with an amazing sort of nervous energy — but you're the one who's nervous, not him.

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

A.k.a., "Jeremy Renner's Audition for the Bourne Series." Yeah, we know the timing doesn't work out on that. But doesn't Ghost Protocol feel a bit like it was Renner's last test before headlining a big-budget action movie on his own? Thankfully, he nailed it. Renner brings a more restrained energy to his role as intelligence analyst William Brandt, and it not only plays well against Tom Cruise's more intense style, but also reins it in. Basically, Renner's performance stops the film from being the Tom Cruise Insanity Explosion Show that many feared it would be.

Tags Matt Damon


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