Matthew McConaughey is having a great year. Strange. But great.
I’ve always liked McConaughey, loving his essential roles in movies like “Dazed and Confused” and “A Time to Kill”. But this year I started to really take notice of him as an actor. He climbed back onto my radar in last Summer’s “The Lincoln Lawyer”. Ali and I saw “Lawyer” at the drive-in because it looked like it was going to be the usual generic, predictable courtroom drama. Well… it was and it wasn’t. There was something elevated about it, something better than I expected. And the longer I watched the more I realized that that something was Matthew McConaughey. He’s just got some kind of crazy charisma, some kind of magnetic likeability, so that even when he’s being a steely southern hot shot lawyer that I’ve seen a million times before I’m compelled to root for him. Women want him, men want to be him – what else is new he’s a movie star.
Then this summer, because of my boredom and because of my love for Steven Soderbergh, Alison and I went to see an opening weekend screening of “Magic Mike”. It was an unforgettable theater-going experience – and not in a good way. Sweaty, loud and claustrophobic, the room was almost dripping with a creepy lustful energy. The whole theater was a mist of desperate, giddy female longing. I was surrounded by a randy mob. Women clapped and bounced in their seats, whooping and cheering at the screen as half naked men danced around in strobe lights and glitter. I’m glad I’m not very good looking or I never would have made it out alive. It was disturbing and actually terrifying (even Alison was freaked out).
But emerging gloriously from the glitter was the performance of Matthew McConaughey. From out of the mist of hunk-lust and out of the shadow of younger, hotter stars like Channing Tatum and Alex Pettyfer, came the movie’s best and most memorable performance. McConaughey’s washed up and yet ambitious Dallas was the best part of “Magic Mike”, and likely the only part to get any awards attention come the fall. There was something so quiet and subtle, and yet so intense about McConaughey in the film.
Later in August for our wedding anniversary, Ali and I went into Toronto to see a little movie called “Killer Joe”. This time we were going specifically for Matthew McConaughey. I had read about the movie and heard that he had given a really show stealing performance. Now first of all let me warn you that this movie is really dark and strange. The movie is based on a play and it feels like it. It’s at once grungy and beautiful, violent and funny, terrifying and intimate. While excellent, “Killer Joe” is not for everyone. There is a scene in the movie involving Matthew McConaughey and a piece of chicken that I will never forget as long as I live. I don’t think I can say I liked the movie, and I definitely won’t recommend it casually, but I’m glad I saw it and I’m glad I saw it with Alison. I really have a great wife and I’m glad I shared such a surreal experience with her.
Whatever you think of the movie, Matthew McConaughey really does steal the show. And this is not an easy show to steal. His titular “Joe” was the heart(less) and soul(less) hero of the movie. It was the kind of performance where you held your breath a little whenever he came on the screen. Just a really juicy, rip your heart out, kind of role and he played the hell out of it.
Two outstanding performances in one year. That would be enough for me to keep my eye on him. But then, this weekend Ali and I were at the Toronto International Film Festival Gala Presentation of “The Paperboy”, a southern boiler from “Precious” director Lee Daniels. Tonally and thematically similar to “Killer Joe”, “The Paperboy” is also a dark, dark movie. Matthew McConaughey’s character in the film is complex and essential, and yet in the end he becomes very much a secondary character to the plot. As great as McConaughey is in the movie he couldn’t outshine the stellar, scene stealing performance by Nicole Kidman. “The Paperboy” might not be McConaughey’s movie but it certainly is a role that rounds out a standout 2012 for the actor. For an Actor who was previously relegated to mediocre sex symbol status in forgettable big budget genre flicks, 2012 really showcased McConaughey’s ability to deliver outstanding, unforgettable performances when he needs to. So maybe we can expect a little more from McConaughey going forward. His résumé for the future is looking pretty exciting with roles in Scorsese’s new drama “The Wolf of Wall Street”, and this year’s still-unreleased indie “Mud”.
So whether you like to follow awards season or whether you just like to keep a few good actors on your radar, keep your eyes on Matthew McConaughey. This year he might surprise you.