The Gospel According to St. McConaughey


This has been mentioned a numerous times throughout the Internet and the idea of writing the name “McConaughey” over and over is a vaunted one, but it must be said again: Dear Matthew has had quite a good year in 2012.

Having just finished Killer Joe, my last in the quadruplet that was, for a moment, expected to signal the renaissance of Matthew McConaughey, I was struck by the realization that I have never seen anything quite like this. Not that McConaughey hasn’t won support from film critics who admire his work in all four movies, but that somehow the actor, a former “leading man” who never quite cracked the public bubble of sexy and talented, managed to be the shining light in four of the most fascinating films in one calendar year. In many ways, the achievement is how esoteric all four films are and McCounaghey’s willingness to choose such material.

With Magic Mike, McConaughey has drawn raves, including the Best Supporting Actor award from the New York Film Critics. McConaughey plays a Gentleman’s Club owner who, over-the-hill and still gyrating his hips, oozes charisma and hopes for the kind of entrepreneurial fortune promised by America. While the film, of the four, is the soggiest in the middle, it’s not for a lack of trying and every time McConaughey touches the frame, it’s some of the most enjoyable minutes you’ll see in movies this year.

The Paperboy, a campy, humid, and overcooked thriller utilizes McCounaghey’s beefy charms as a sexually-confused family man, determined professionally, but vulnerable the-paperboy-matthew-mcconaughey-john-cusack-sliceabout his nature. Bernie allows McCounaughey to dance on the fringes of straight comedy as he’s tossed into a bizarrely loving murder mystery as a Texan town’s caricature lawyer. Killer Joe, perhaps the most compelling of the foursome, watches McConaughey stoically unravel as a sexual predator and mildly sadistic hitman whose heart somehow can be swayed by a sense of honor. That honor, however, comes at the cost of a 12-year-old girl and a mercilessly dysfunctional family.

Part of why McConaughey never became the star everyone expected was because he was playing that star, in the smarmiest, greasiest, and somehow, most honest ways, right from the moment he arrived. With the puffed muscles, Texas boy grin, spray-tan swagger, and soaked curly locks, McConaughey seemed to drop from the Heavens into the lead actor slot on Hollywood call sheets. While some of that has to do with directors trying to profit off his good looks in uncomfortable roles such as How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, much of it has to do with McConaughey’s overstuffed sense of confidence. A bravura that can at once alienate (when used at face value) and also radiate (when twisted in on itself like Magic Mike).

Somehow, McConaughey has never seemed the movie star type. Meaning he doesn’t fluidly move from a sexy Martin Scorsese production into a major action blockbuster, only to show up at premieres with the prettiest young model on his arm, and answer every question with the cuteness of an unknowing 24-year-old. He’s brash, arrogant, and he’s always been that way, even when the world has moved on to the next McConaughey (see: Channing Tatum). Watching all four of his interesting 2012 films, at some point I thought to myself, “Who is Matthew McConaughey?” Because the only one I know has always seemed something of a farce, for better and worse.

Dazed and ConfusedTo say that in 2012 McConaughey transformed or made a comeback would be a tiny bit of
misconception. He’s always seemed to have just arrived but never for good. From the
moment he showed up as the already inflated older guy in Dazed and Confused, McConaughey has walked the line of inside the circle and desperately still outside of it. Taken in this context his good looks and leading man allusions take on an altogether new and exciting quality. Now in his 40s, McConaughey has finally figured out how to choose material that highlights rather than distracts. This year, to my mind, has unveiled the discovery of a struggling performer who has come into his own.

I read an Oscar blogger say that she “fears McConaughey might win Best Supporting Actor for Magic Mike” (something I doubt will happen), but really what she’s hoping is that vision of McConaughey – the one that never actually really was – doesn’t get his sweaty paws on a high art award. That McConaughey is the one that lives in our Google image searches or our bad romantic comedy DVD covers. This McConaughey is all new and, if you can erase the other, you are left with some of the best performances of the year. Ones everybody would be rooting for.  As it is, Magic Mike has shown up on multiple “Best of” lists, as has Bernie and Killer Joe (The Paperboy has shamefully been ignored) and that’s thanks in no small part to McConaughey’s dedicated work.

Now looking at 2013, McConaughey stars as Ron Woodroof in the highly anticipated Dallas Buyers Club, as well as a fugitive in the acclaimed Jeff Nichols project, Mud. And, going back to the mainstream, he takes his crack at Scorsese in The Wolf of Wall Street. All of these roles have the potential to propel McConaughey into the pantheon of attractive actors turned talented movie stars. But maybe that’s the worst thing that could happen to him.

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