Is that Matt Damon under 25 pounds of paunch, a moustache, and an outsize toupee? As corporate whistle-blower Mark Whitacre in The Informant!, he's a geeky drone nervously exposing a price-fixing scheme.
Or is he? We're well into director Steven Soderbergh's sly comedy before we realize it's a Catch Me If You Can caper, with Whitacre duping the FBI. Who better than Damon to channel an Everyguy run amok?
True, his looks don't make our jaws drop like golden-boy Pitt or matinee-idol Clooney; Damon is sexy at second glance, the believable stud with eyes more shifty than dreamy. But would we really want to be with someone prettier than we are, like his megawatt cohorts in Ocean's 11—13, or the ethereal newbie Robert Pattinson? The jealousy alone would kill us.
Damon is as approachable as the hero of his Bourne trilogy—no dashing James Bond, but a sensitive soul who blends in until he starts blasting away rogue agents. Like Bourne, Damon is a superstar hiding in plain sight.
Most of his characters harbor lethal secrets, which lets Damon slowly shed layers of deception. He's the working-class kid masquerading as a Princeton friend in The Talented Mr. Ripley, until that murdering habit kicks in. Leo DiCaprio spends most of The Departed not spotting straight-arrow Damon as a crooked cop. In The Good Shepherd, Damon reveals the buried emotion of a CIA agent, without awards-baiting antics. His reward for subtlety? Robbed of an Oscar nod.
By weird luck, understated powerhouses command this month's best movies: Clive Owen is a treacle-free single dad in The Boys Are Back, and Viggo Mortensen leads his son through the apocalypse in The Road. With Damon, they share something more exciting than looks: a slow-burning intelligence that leaves us feeling both unsettled and seduced.