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Entries in matt damon (3)


In Which We Remain Smaller Than We Were Before

All You Have To Do Is Say Yes


dir. Alexander Payne
135 minutes

There is a scene late in Alexander Payne’s Downsizing where a bunch of Norwegians watch the sun go down for the last time. It is an oblique commentary on President Trump’s desire to see more Norwegian-Americans, and as such it is very topical. Around 150,000 non-whites live in Norway, but as Payne pans across this collection of Norwegian people, they are a diverse panoply of different ethnicities. It is the moment where the question of, “Is Downsizing pandering?” is answered definitely in the affirmative.

Payne has been often celebrated for his satires. That is until Downsizing, because no one could seemingly figure out what was being satirized, or why it would be unusual for human beings to shrink down to a size of five inches. Once Paul (Matt Damon) makes this move, his wife (Kristen Wiig) refuses to go through with it and files for divorce. Instead of having a life of considerable wealth in his tiny village, he has to answer telephones for Lands' End, which Payne presents as a humiliating job.

In contrast, Paul’s true calling is as an occupational therapist. He is always noticing when someone is walking funny or suffering from some kind of chronic pain. He dates a woman who doesn’t want him to meet her kid, and comes home to the same shitty apartment he might have in a large person’s world. In other scenes, he witnesses a depth of poverty that transcends the size of the people involved.

Paul spends the rest of the movie as a pseudo-doctor to those in the slums who can’t afford anything better. It is a strange choice for Payne's film, but not as strange as the presentation of poverty in this context. Like many rich whites, Payne believes that those who depend on the efforts of others for their subsistence are uniformly non-white. Payne shares this view with - you guessed it - our beleaguered president.

Watching Matt Damon minister to the poor strikes us as a pathetic recreation of his actual life of justifying and defending the abhorrent behavior of his friends and colleagues. Yet in Paul there is something of the sycophantic enabler that Damon must be to the point where we sense Payne is using our disapproval of the actor behind the mask to draw suspicion to all those individuals who would do something positive for the wrong reasons. In the end, the wrong to be rectified is so much more awful that we accept any reason is just.

Poverty is a disgraceful symptom of a certain, more inclusive society. (Norway has never had to face such problems.) In order to eradicate it, we could conceivably shrink ourselves. As Payne presciently notes, there are ensuing problems – the amount of taxes collected would go down, the amount of consumer spending would go down. But what we should have realized before our government prevented the collapse of massive, irresponsible banks is that a new economy will always replace the old. This is the essential, undiminished spirit of capitalism. Payne writes around this essential question by drawing the world to an end in Downsizing.

By the end the main character in Downsizing becomes Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau), a Vietnamese woman whose leg was amputed at the knee. She falls in love with Matt Damon while he is attempting to fix her prosthetic leg. In one exciting scene, they have sex after he is massaging her stump — she makes very elaborate groans which are meant to be a cue to him to initiate intercourse. Hong Chau is a fantastic actor in a somewhat problematic role, since Lan Tran has no flaws whatsoever and is basically presented as a female Confucius. Still, this at least feels like a risk in a movie that has very few.

As a result, the remedy that Downsizing offers for American life is focused on the personal. It is a very inoffensive, ineffectual answer to the serious economic question posed by this film’s premise, and I think audiences and critics reacted to Payne’s cowardice. I tend to give him a wider berth, but I understand it. In art, it's not enough, anymore, to say how and why the world feels wrong to you. You should probably have an idea of how it could be changed for the better.

Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.


In Which We All Have Reasons to Run

Flag Over Dhaka


The first result of a YouTube search for the Iran-Contra hearings brings up day 26 of the congressional investigation, yielding several hours of the infamous colonel Oliver North's testimony. An interrogator is immediately introduced: "The joint hearing will please come to order. Mr. Liman will resume questioning."

Arthur Liman looks steady and confident as he appears to wait for North to ready himself.

"Colonel," he asks, "did you receive any formal training in conducting covert operations?"

The things we inherit from our parents. Arthur's son, Doug, chose film instead of the courtroom, but with no less recognition; among his accomplishments include credits as a producer for The Bourne Identity (2002) and executive producer for its two sequels, The Bourne Supremacy (2004) and The Bourne Ultimatum (2007). The imprints from his father on this trilogy are equally transparent and well-documented. There are at least eleven photos of Arthur in his Tribeca loft, and hardly an interview goes by without at least one question about the lawyer that raised him.


The Bourne Identity opens with Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) floating unconscious in the Mediterranean as a storm rages. He is hauled into a passing fishing boat; a crew member removes bullets and a capsule with a bank account number from his back. We understand Bourne to be uncommonly competent, able to speak multiple languages fluently and perform complex tasks effortlessly, but lacking any memory of who he was before he awoke in open sea.

An apparent victim of violence, he quickly establishes himself as a capable perpetrator as well, unhanding two Swiss police and several American embassy security guards within hours of arriving in Zurich. From his bank vault he finds a small fortune, numerous passports, and a gun that he leaves behind in a fruitless attempt to deescalate the next several hours of film. The premise is simple: true to its namesake, Bourne must uncover his own identity in the hopes that he can understand why countless authority figures (and several business-casual assassins) have an antenna and a pistol out for him.

And we, too, are immediately off to the races; the first two films lurch with palpable momentum. Aiding and abetting Bourne is Marie (Franka Potente), a drifter who originally exchanges a ride for cash but falls into predictable complications. Potente's film breakthrough came in 1998 as the title character in Run Lola Run; in Bourne she reprises life on the fly. In pursuit are former peers of Jason's, sent to tie him off one by one. These fights are lengthy and brutal, unsparingly filmed in a manner that calls to mind wildlife confrontations from Planet Earth. After Jason blows out an assassin (Clive Owen) in a field with a shotgun, however, he dies without animus. "Look at what they make you give," he says, clutching his torso.

The central conflict in the Bourne series is that of memory. Jason needs to regain his; once he does, he wishes to forget. This internal conflict is relatively trivial, in the sense that no matter how much he runs, institutional memory and its capacity for violence far exceeds his own.


My father is neither a spy nor a killer. There's no bank vault of his in Switzerland, no Glock anywhere in the boxy Accord. He is physically unfit and needs help installing a printer. But he, too, learned how to run, and has kept that skill out of necessity.

In 1969, as a journalist in then-East Pakistan, he wrote several newspaper articles criticizing the incipient leader of a Bangladesh verging on independence. Walking back to his office after an interview one day in March, he was surrounded by a group of men, some brandishing knives, and corralled into a house in southwestern Dhaka. The secessionists toyed with what to do with him; eventually he was told that if he continued writing against Sheikh Mujib, his "bowels would be left in the street for dogs." He later met Mr. Mujib in a more professional capacity and was warned vaguely about what would happen down the road to those who oppose Bengali liberation. Two years later, tensions reached flashpoint, and horror engulfed East Pakistan. My father fled west, serving as a speechwriter for the Pakistani prime minister, and then later as a diplomat in Europe. As a new flag raised above Dhaka, he knew it would be some time before he could return, if ever.

What followed was a reinvention; assuming a new identity in a country halfway across the globe cannot be anything else. It is a common act, and yet one so profound I find myself continually fascinated by it. Mohammed from Polashpur became Mustafa in Maryland, not for his own safety as much as to attenuate discrimination in an America still struggling to understand Islam.

He kept writing, for think tanks and a couple newspapers. Eventually tensions simmered and he could return home when he wished. But not uncommonly, after the towers fell and the Pentagon burned, a new target emerged on his back.


In January 2003, as a sophomore in high school in suburban Maryland, I watched my mother let three men in suits into our house. At least one introduced himself as a Customs agent and one as from the Department of Homeland Security. They sat around my dining room table as my father answered questions. I sat in the adjacent living room, out of sight but within earshot.

The questions lasted well over an hour, focusing on his knowledge, sometimes second- or third-degree of separation, of Muslims near and far who may have donated money to organizations that may have been considered a threat to the States at some point.

What followed were events that made it clear he was, to some extent, being watched. He maintains that some form of surveillance must have been necessary to know about some of the people they referenced. And then came the ghosts, journalists and researchers who asked him questions about his views on extremist groups, who turned out not to exist when looked into. He did not take the bait, but one of his friends remains in jail today, presumably for saying the wrong thing to the wrong person.


The Bourne films can hardly be considered subversive — Liman calls The Bourne Identity part of his "sellout trilogy," joined by Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Jumper — but in a somewhat risk-averse genre, they are unquestionably substantial. More recent contemporaries claw anachronistically toward a heyday of Western empire; the Bond movies, in particular, seem beholden to a separate code of Bond-ness in addition to the formula of a spy thriller. Skyfall features M (Judi Dench) arguing at a public inquiry for the continuation of lethal covert programs with little oversight, to preserve British safety and security. (The inquest is blown into confetti by Javier Bardem, who can orchestrate the demolition of MI6 from an uncharted island but struggles for the length of the film to kill an old woman.) Mission Impossible - Rogue Nation (2015) ends with Jeremy Renner restoring his black ops team in front of a U.S. congressional committee, with victory over terrorists and those who wish to shut down his agency achieved in one fell swoop.

Liman's treatment of oversight as a part of checks and balances, undoubtedly informed by his father's experience in such matters, helps create a more nuanced experience. CIA Section Chief Ward Abbott (Brian Cox) closes The Bourne Identity by lying to a congressional committee about Treadstone, the program which begat Bourne. Our hero from The Bourne Supremacy onward is Pam Landy (Joan Allen), the razor-sharp CIA investigator who is propped up to take the fall in case Treadstone goes public. Jason's swath of bodies can only bring himself closure, but Landy wants justice, from which she will eventually seek out the Senate.

What a relief, too, to see a more contemporary presentation of the objectives of our intelligence services. Mark Mazzetti's nonfiction bestseller The Way of the Knife details how espionage has shifted away from the romanticized Cold War-era attempts to continually one-up or flip archrival intelligence services. After 9/11, "the CIA's top priority was no longer gathering intelligence on foreign governments and their countries, but man hunting," and a new spirit of cooperation among once-frosty agencies, governments, and mercurial warlords became the norm.

As such, the modern era is perhaps less Western security versus the global south, but more precisely the hunters and the hunted. And once you become prey, the reasons that put you there are irrelevant. The CIA does not know what Bourne wants or why he's behaving erratically. Numerous scenes show men in suits arguing about Bourne's motivations; none of their theories are accurate, and the conclusions are invariably to continue to attempt to kill him. "It ends when we've won," the CIA deputy director barks down to Landy.


I am neither a journalist nor a diplomat, but some fingerprint ripples have come through my life. As a teenager I, too, had my first name changed, in my father's endless quest to mollify both of his worlds. I've had a few stressful incidents when re-entering the States, but nothing worse than a detention.

I feel, like many second-generation immigrants, that I've been born with a certain amount of vestigial momentum. Jhumpa Lahiri, born in London to Indian immigrants, recently chronicled her ascetic pursuit of moving to Rome purely to learn Italian in The New Yorker. She speaks of "voluntary exile," of being a "divided person." Nothing makes more sense to me.

My father's still running. Bangladesh's elections in 2014, typically held under the auspices of a neutral caretaker government, were condemned worldwide as a sham. He was in his hometown last year, visiting family, when waves of political violence erupted at the one-year anniversary of the election. Old enemies became fair game of a political party increasing its throttle, with the daughter of Mr. Mujib at the helm.

My father was advertising the sale of some of his land in the rural village he grew up in. A prospective customer came by, inquiring about the land and trying to befriend him. This man repeatedly proposed that they travel together to eastern India, despite no real connection on his part, but demurred when asked to stay with my father's friends. The requests continued, and my dad proposed invented errands, of which the visitor also wanted to chaperone. Uninterested in a one-way trip, my father slipped out of the country, telling only one family member, and arrived back in Maryland weeks earlier than planned.


In a sidestepping the Damon-less "sequel" The Bourne Legacy (2012), the invariably pallid Jeremy Renner fails to capture any feelings other than wishing for the end of the movie. The trailer for the forthcoming Jason Bourne, doesn't assuage any feelings that the franchise is past its use, despite returning Damon to the fray. We see Jason (born David Webb, as Landy informs him) back in the States, punching someone from a motorcycle, creating fires, and causing a pile-up in Vegas. We've found out all we need to know, so presumably all that remains is bigger lights and more blood; for this hangover candy, why not look up Jason Statham or Vin Diesel? "You know his name," the teaser flashes word-by-word. We know both: the title reflects the invention.

Jamal Malik is a contributor to This Recording. This is his first appearance in these pages. His twitter can be found here.


In Which It's The Best Jewish Comedy Western Since Blazing Saddles

Nature's Cathedral


True Grit

dir. Joel and Ethan Coen

110 minutes

Who incepted my fantasy about wandering the wildernesses of New Mexico with Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon? Who told the Coen brothers that every scrappy tomboy sees herself in Rooster Cogburn? When did Matt Damon get so goddamned awesome? Is he Leonardo DiCaprio's black swan because he reminds us that what we don't love about Leo is his humorlessness and inability or unwillingness to make fun of himself?

Since they slayed it on the first try with No Country For Old Men, you might think the Coen Brothers would shy away from making another Western. Apparently they're going for the hat trick and doing Blood Meridian next, although you never know if they'll zig. If they can manage to make Blood Meridian not humorless, I will give them a billion percent of my mind futures. True Grit is a perfect modern existential Western, a tribute to The Wizard Of Oz the way O Brother Where Art Thou was a retelling of The Odyssey.

Matt Damon knows how to play a white hat in an interesting way. He always brings something of a black hat attitude to it. That's why he was so great in The Departed and The Talented Mr. Ripley as a black hat hiding behind a white hat façade. He is a genuine movie star. True Grit reminded me a lot of Hayao Miyazaki movies, which feature determined little girls on dangerous missions in dreamlike environments. National treasure Jeff Bridges really gets his Orson Welles in Chimes At Midnight on.

In addition to Western tropes, all of the Coens' own tropes are here too: severed limbs and digits, repetitions of key phrases that become funnier as they are repeated, salty old men and fast-talking women. The Coens are tender-hearted nihilists, and so are all of their characters. Do other directors resent the Coens because they make it look so easy? I am sure that making it look that effortless is actually really fucking hard. 

My favorite classic existential Western is Man Of The West, Anthony Mann's claustrophobic take on the genre. Existential Westerns are Waiting For Godot against the background of nature. They replicate what it's like to be inside your own mind, and recall all the weird Jungian dreamscapes you've ever seen in your sleep. Attempting to convey in film the intense spirituality of landscapes is Terrence Malick's life's pursuit. 

I have a lot of love for Westerns, because I am from the West. I romanticize Western tropes, and so this movie was perfect for me because it was a romantic but not bloodless take on the Western. I also loved No Country For Old Men, which was decidedly anti-romantic. I love that the Coens can execute both and see no conflict in the differences between them. I respect versatility more than just about anything.

For me, True Grit and Black Swan both captured the atmosphere of dreams and nightmares in a way that Inception did not at all. The immanently mystical quality of some places, especially natural environments, derealization, the ways in which life sometimes feels like a three character play in which you are all three characters. 

Avatar was James Cameron's Wizard Of Oz remake. The Wizard Of Oz is the ultimate existential fantasy movie, and seeing it for the first time is a lot of people's first mundane psychedelic experience with art. In dreams you are often on a mission of some sort, and it is comforting to think about having such a clear purpose in life. In real life our personal directives are much less obvious, if they are discernible at all.  

The modern existential Western/Wizard Of Acid/spiritual landscape film that best captures and approximates my own internal processes is Easy Rider; the avatars of 1970s Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, and Jack Nicholson are in constant battle for my eternal soul. God help you if Jack Nicholson wins. God help me if Dennis Hopper does. There's an excellent argument to be made that I am also McCabe & Mrs. Miller

Genre tropes always sound like liabilities in advance. I've seen enough bad child actors to be instantly wary of a movie centered around a child actor, but Hailee Steinfeld is a born natural. She more than holds her own against the A List actors all around her.

Fun facts about Hailee: her dad is "Body By Jake" as shown in the Pie-O-My episode of The Sopranos, she is a valley girl like me, that diva bitch from Glee snubbed her and it made her cry. If I was caught off guard by the ending of True Grit (and what an ending), it's because I expected her to grow up to be Holly Hunter in Raising Arizona.

Jeff Bridges' Rooster Cogburn is the cowardly lion. Bridges is one of my absolute favorite actors. I have a major soft spot for second generation actors, because a lot of them seem to understand how to treat acting like it's a regular job. They are not necessarily less prone to be divas, but certainly Jeff Bridges doesn't seem like a diva.

Neither does Matt Damon. That's why they are so good. They never pull focus, even when hamming it up. They understand how to collaborate, how to work on a team. It's a quality I think all the best actors have. Can somebody please cast Owen Wilson in their next Western? Shanghai Noon/Knights fan #1 over here, and I'm serious. 

The Coens always create a sort of collaborative seeming world, perhaps because they are themselves collaborating. One wonders if Joel and Ethan ever disagree on things. Surely there must be times when one of them sees a shot one way and the other sees it some other way, and they have to compromise. Who is Micky and who is Dickey?

Here's how to fix The Fighter. Wahlberg and Bale swap roles. THINK ABOUT IT. Wahlberg would be much more genuinely menacing as the fuck-up crackhead brother, as anyone who's seen Fear can attest. Bale's natural smarminess would make the sympathetic lead more complex and interesting. Bale and Amy Adams actually had the best chemistry in the movie in their one real scene together. To make it up to me, they can do a webcast of True West where they switch roles every other scene.

Fargo is a kind of Western (a Midwestern), wherein Frances McDormand is the law. The Big Lebowski is a Western, in addition to being a neon noir detective movie. I was a little sad Sam Elliott never showed up in True Grit. He could have been The Wizard.

In the FMK situation that will be this year's Academy Awards, I think I'm going to have to kill The Fighter, fuck Black Swan (it was college!), and marry True Grit. But I need to see both of the latter again to be sure. How exciting is it to have so many actually good films in theaters? Winter movies are summer tentpole movies for film geeks.

Best Existential Westerns:

The Searchers 

Dead Man

Man Of The West

High Noon


Once Upon A Time In The West

The Good The Bad And The Ugly

McCabe & Mrs. Miller

El Topo

Ride The High Country

The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre

Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia

There Will Be Blood

Easy Rider

Molly Lambert is the managing editor of This Recording. If somebody can hook her up to be artist in residence at the Gene Autry Museum she'll murder your enemies for you. She tumbls here and twitters here.

"River Crossing" - Carter Burwell (mp3)

"A Great Adventure" - Carter Burwell (mp3)

"Your Headstrong Ways" - Carter Burwell (mp3)

"Leaning on the Everlasting Arms" - Iris DeMent (mp3)