Matt Damon in 'The Informant!'It's not like snapping your fingers, and it can't all be attributed to hair and make-up. So how does a marquee beauty like Matt Damon transform himself into an ordinary-looking businessman in Steven Soderbergh's The Informant!?

Damon plays Matt Whitacre, the cinematic version of a real-life character, a scientist who became the vice-president of a chemical company and then turned informant for the government in the early 1990s. Damon doesn't perform a complete disappearing act, to the point that we don't recognize him. True, he gained 30 pounds for the role and his character wears a toupee. The extra pounds make him look "doughy" and soft, which is what Soderbergh wanted, according to USA Today. Yet he doesn't look excessively obese and he doesn't walk around with his shirt off; he just looks rather ... ordinary, a normal, thickening man from the middle of the country, with a wife and children and a house and a car (make that cars).

The actor has played pretty boys many times, which is kind of inevitable when you're a good-looking guy. Still, he has the deft ability to shift his charm downward, in service of the role, even in fluffy entertainment like Ocean's Eleven, Twelve, and Thirteen. He doesn't turn all his lights off, just selected ones, just enough to dim the wattage of his stardom. All his skills as an actor are needed in The Informant!, which has an increasingly jaw-dropping story to tell. Scott Weinberg described it as a "quietly odd performance." It's also hilarious. Damon hits every note, blending into the story while retaining an innate goodness that makes you root for him even as you slowly realize you probably shouldn't. It's brilliant; I just don't know how he does it.