We Bought A ’Do: The Fabulous Hairstyles of Late-Career Matt Damon

Slate's Culture Blog
Dec. 23 2011 11:34 AM

Hairafter: The Fabulous Coiffure of Late-Career Matt Damon

If you want to ascertain the quality of a Matt Damon performance, you need only look at his hair. In recent films like Contagion, The Informant!, and this Christmas’s We Bought A Zoo, Damon has let his shag grow into what could only be called the worst kind of dad cut—an overgrown tangle that says, “I’m too busy being a good father to worry about seeing a barber”—and he’s simultaneously delivered many of his finest performances. When taking on roles like Jason Bourne, on the other hand, Damon sports a familiar medium crew cut—and his performances seem similarly to be on autopilot.

This is the great paradox of Matt Damon’s hair, what I’m going to call the Matt Damon Hairodox: The more awful the hair, the better the performance.

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Matt Damon made his fame playing extraordinary individuals—the supergenius Will Hunting, the superhuman Jason Bourne, The Talented Mr. Ripley—and his finely coiffed and often gelled hair advertised a similar hyper-competence. In recent years, however, movie-star Matt Damon has edged more and more toward a persona as the Middle American Joe—he’s married and had three daughters during the same period—and his hair has grown similarly schlubby.

While it would be fun to argue that Damon’s bad hair is the equivalent of a starlet uglifying herself for Oscar—or “going full retard” —and that Damon’s best performances are actually the ones in which his hair doesn’t call attention to itself, that simply isn’t the case. He’s never drifted between tones so agilely as in The Informant!, and he’s never conveyed more pathos than in Contagion, a movie in which he outshines several Oscar winners (and bears his most overgrown hair).

What does this tell us about Damon’s next two movies? Well, he’s been spotted bald while filming Elysium, the under-wraps second film from District 9 director Neill Blomkamp. This is sort of a wild card. But he does look sort of stupid, so maybe it’ll be great! After Elysium, Damon will star as the bouffanted Scott Thorson, Liberace’s lover, in Steven Soderbergh’s Behind the Candelabra. There can be little doubt: He will be excellent.

Forrest Wickman is a Slate staff writer. 

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