Damon's done this sort of part before- introverted, quiet and rather morally suspect man in a suit- but I don't think I've ever seen him do it with more conviction, complexity and subtlety. Edward Wilson is really the tentpole of The Good Shepherd, and, despite all the superb work going on around him- Robert De Niro's clever direction, the production design, the music, the stellar supporting cast- it would still collapse without Damon at its centre, for he prevents the film from becoming a hollow, impervious beast. Wilson is a man whose life is both made and broken by his involvement with the CIA's birth, and Damon is supremely adept at portraying the slow, painful erosion of his relationships and soul.
The part of Billy Costigan quickly proves to be the best part Leonardo DiCaprio has ever been given; and beyond that, it's easily the best he's ever been. A mess of aggressive masculinity and confused nervousness, Billy is eager to show that he's not the man people expect him to be, but he struggles to let go of that as it seems to become increasingly necessary. The Departed is ostensibly a two-hander between DiCaprio's Costigan and Matt Damon's Colin Sullivan, but it really seems more of the long-awaited fruits of the extended Scorsese-DiCaprio partnership- finally DiCaprio has proved himself an equal to Scorsese's previous favourite actor, Robert De Niro himself. This, finally, is a star-making performance.
Dan Dunne is not a hero, which the teachers in this type of film usually seem to be. In fact, Dan is just as weak and selfish- probably moreso- than the people he teaches, a good teacher but a failure of a man. Ryan Gosling (whose real revelatory performance was five years previously in The Believer) creates a crafty balance between Dan's weaknesses and strengths, struggling to help others while neglecting himself. Gosling is not only superb within his character, but in the duets he creates with those around him- a brief appearance from Tina Holmes as a concerned ex, the various students in his class, but most importantly young Shareeka Epps as Drey, who discovers his drug habit. It's the rich web of relationships that make Half Nelson, and Gosling is the spider at its centre.
C.R.A.Z.Y. looks unlikely to ever be released in the USA (at least in theatres- I seem to remember reading about a DVD?), but since it was released in Britain in 2006 it's here, so shut it. This powerful family drama, with a superb visceral sense for its time period(s), is prime fodder for some great acting, and indeed, none more so that Marc-Andre Grondin as the central character Zac, the most unique of five brothers, and also the most confused. Grondin gets the mix of alienation and love from and for his family just right- he loves them but can't get on with them, because they don't understand him. Grondin keeps Zac firmly in reality as his character goes through various confusions- sexuality, drugs, travelling- even keeping C.R.A.Z.Y. grounded in its most absurd moments.
The Fountain is also a film that (more successfully) dabbles in the absurd, and Hugh Jackman also has to work hard to keep it grounded, as Darren Aronofsky's unique visions fly dazzlingly all over the place, and main co-star Rachel Weisz seems to lift off the ground thanks to ethereal lighting and a ghostly character. Jackman not only has to juggle three different- although ultimately the same- characters, but he has to mediate between their different temperaments. The central character, the one in the nearest time period, Tom Creo, is the biggest part and also the most powerful- witness Jackman's howls of pain as he's restrained in the hospital and I defy you not to sob. The Fountain made me cry in a singular way, and this, I credit entirely to Mr. Jackman.