The Good, The Bad & The Badass: Matthew McConaughey
Last week, we switched things up and explored the career of uber-producer Jerry Bruckheimer. This week, we put our focus back on the talent in front of the camera, with a re-evaluation of an actor many of us had written off years ago, but is now on his way to being a legend
Two short years ago, Matthew McConaughey was a guy we had all written off. After a tiny, but memorable part in Richard Linklaters DAZED & CONFUSED, McConaughey became a full-fledged star with his turn in Joel Schumachers John Grisham adaptation A TIME TO KILL. Many compared him to a young Paul Newman, and for a while it seemed they were right. He had it all. Women loved him, and guys appreciated his tougher roles in movies like REIGN OF FIRE and U-571. Somewhere it all went horribly wrong
After HOW TO LOSE A GUY IN 10 DAYS became a smash, McConaughey suddenly became Hollywoods rom-com guy. His big attempt to become an action star with SAHARA flopped miserably, and he became stuck in a never ending series of generic studio comedies like FOOLS GOLD and GHOSTS OF GIRLFRIENDS PAST that required very little from him other than to act charming and take off his shirt whenever he could. The nadir of his career hit around the time his vanity project-SURFER DUDE- went direct to DVD. McConaugheys talent was ridiculed everywhere, most infamously by Matt Damons spot on impression on David Letterman. McConaughey took it in stride, but the writing was on the wall.
Rather than give in and keep churning out rom-coms (which were still doing relatively well at the box office) McConaughey switched things up in a big way. His first step was to do THE LINCOLN LAWYER, which harkened back to his earlier roles, as well as a gem of a part in old pal Linklaters BERNIE. But KILLER JOE was the real turning point. Even though it barely made a dent at the box office (no doubt thanks to its NC-17 rating) McConaugheys performance drew raves. None of us thought he was capable of such a bizarrely humorous, twisted character but to say he pulled it off is an understatement. Following that, he made fun of his own shirtless days by sending himself up in MAGIC MIKE. Then- he starred in the indie breakout hit MUD for director Jeff Nichols, which, after seeing it, I proclaimed to be his best performance of all-time. As impossible as it seemed to me after seeing MUD at Sundance last year, it wouldnt even be his best performance of the year
With DALLAS BUYERS CLUB, McConaughey did something drastic and dangerous. He shed forty-seven pounds to play a man dying of AIDS, which is no joke for a 44 year-old man. That said, if the performance had only been about the weight loss, it wouldnt have resonated the way it has. Rather, McConaughey used the weight loss to forge an ingenious, difficult characterization of a hateful, bigoted man who becomes something of a hero in his dogged attempts to save his own life, inadvertently saving others in the process, even if it is (at first) for profit.
Shortly after SAHARA, McConaughey tried to shake things up by doing WE ARE MARSHALL, a now-obscure football-drama, which was director McGs big attempt to be taken seriously and was once considered an Oscar contender. At least, it was before people saw it. Nevertheless, McConaughey got a lot of credit for his performance as real-life football coach Jack Lengye. Personally, I thought his performance was as two-dimensional as any of his rom coms. Blame the material, or blame the fact that McConaugheys career as a romantic lead was still too white-hot at the moment, but neither McConaughey nor the movie delivered.
Prior to KILLER JOE, McConaughey did two change-of-pace roles that I thought were underrated. The first was the big post-apocalyptic dragon movie REIGN OF FIRE. A deliciously cheesy adventure film that cast McConaughey as a bald, insane dragon hunter opposite pre-stardom Christian Bale and Gerard Butler, REIGN was a flop with audiences, but I swear its worth a look if only for McConaugheys bug-nuts performance. Envy the country that has heroes??? I say pity the country that needs them!!!
The other great performance McConaughey delivered during his lost period was in Bill Paxtons directorial debut FRAILTY. Reading this, I bet the majority of you are saying huh? but Im also sure a bunch of you are saying f*ck yeah! In this gothic thriller, McConaughey plays a man who, on a dark and stormy night, tells an FBI agent (played by Powers Boothe) about how his father (played by Paxton) and younger brother are axe murderers, claiming that the people they kill are demons revealed to them by God through a magical axe named Otis. If you havent seen this one, get ready for a treat, and one of the best twist endings of all-time.
For this one, I have to pick McConaugheys one-scene (well, one and a half) performance is Martin Scorseses brilliant THE WOLF OF WALL STREET. His coke and booze-fueled lunch with Jordan Belfort, where among other things his advocates cocaine and masturbation as the key to financial success, is a master-class in acting, in addition to being full-on hilarious. While its probably too tiny a part to go in my top 5 below, I couldnt imagine any other scene being here. Sadly, being such a new movie Ive only got a tiny part of the scene (a taste if you will) to show you what I mean.
5. A TIME TO KILL
3. KILLER JOE
1. DALLAS BUYERS CLUB
McConaugheys just started a run on HBOs TRUE DETECTIVE that- depending on how the rest of the show plays out- just might overtake DALLAS BUYERS CLUB as his best performance. Based on the first three episodes (which I was lucky enough to get an early look at) thats a very real possibility. Oh, and hes also got a little movie coming out called INTERSTELLAR directed by some guy named Christopher Nolan. Ever hear of him?
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