Words: Philip Cummins
It's a comeback that none of us saw coming and of which Lazarus would be proud.
With the recent release of Mud, a cinematic slice of timeless, golden Americana from director Jeff Nichols, Matthew McConaughey continues his newly earned reputation as one of the finest and most exciting American actors working in film today.
In recent years, McConaughey has left his rom com days as the delectable, though, ultimately, clichéd, prince charming behind him and chosen to play chilling and disturbing characters that would leave any member of his devoted fan base of adorning teenage girls positively squeamish.
The square- jawed Texan, who boasts features so chiseled that Michelangelo would throw his hammer and pick down in shame, was previously dubbed "Matthew Mahogany" by noted BBC film critic Mark Kermode in relation to what Kermode saw as McConaughey's wooden performances in any number of vacuous rom coms. Kermode, however, has since done a U- turn and dubbed now refers to McConaughey as "Matthew McConaissance".
In recent years, McConaughey's gone Method. Anyone see those pictures of an almost- anorexic McConaughey recently? The 43-year- old 6ft tall, 13 Stone 7 lbs actor starved himself down to 9 Stone 7lbs to play AIDS sufferer Ron Woodroof in upcoming flick, Dallas Buyers Club, surviving on nothing but a daily diet of diet coca cola, egg whites and a piece of chicken. Rumors of McConaughey changing his surname to Day- Lewis are exaggerated.
McConaughey also joined the cast of Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street, which is due in late 2013 / early 2014.
The truth is that while some of McConaughey's previous choices have been pretty damn awful by anyone's standards, he's made up for it with his recent turns. Let's hope for his sakes and ours that it doesn't go all Nic Cage. For now, here's a top 5 of his best performances to date. If we've left any out, do let us know.
5. Roger Sherman Baldwin – Amistad
Cast as a lawyer (what is with this guy and lawyers? I reckon he wanted to go to law school before making it as an actor), McConaughey's nuanced turn in Spielberg's Amistad, a film that received a lukewarm reception on release but is definitely worth re- investigating, is something to behold. Acting alongside a fine cast that included Morgan "the voice" Freeman, Anthony Hopkins, Pete Postlethwaite and Stellan Skarsgård, he plays a young property lawyer who works under Theodore Johnson (Freeman) and Lewis Tappan (Skarsgård). Relatively young and inexperienced and the time of filming, he holds is own well and, like Tommy Lee Jones' Thaddeus Stevens in Lincoln, he's a very effective supporting actor who gains the audiences' support and sympathy.
4. Mick Haller – The Lincoln Lawyer
Some distance from his turn as a laywer in A Time to Kill, McConaughey's performance as Mick Haller, a sometime successful, sometime not- so- successful criminal defense lawyer who operates in and around Los Angeles county out of a black Lincoln Town Car. His client (Ryan Philippe) is the subject of what could be a career- defining case. McConaughey's performance is a perfect example of how he has gone for a less- is- more approach, using his matinee idol looks and charisma to build a character that is flawed and in search of success.
3. Dallas – Magic Mike
An excellent performance that should have resulted in an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. McConaughey's devilish Dallas, a shrewd, manipulative strip- bar owner is central to the action of the movie and leads him to manipulate and groom the other characters as only a villain can. Tyler Durden, but with less clothes.
2. Mud – Mud
Playing a sweet- talking fugitive on the run after killing the man who beat up the woman he loves (played by Reese Witherspoon), McConaughey's Mud is a mix between Martin Sheen's character, Kit, in Badlands and Kevin Costner's Butch Haynes from A Perfect World. He strikes up an unlikely friendship with two young boys who provide him with food and deliver it to the boat on the Mississippi river, where he's hiding out in a boat. Armed with only a pistol and a "lucky shirt" which he uses for protection; ironic giving that McConaughey has had trouble keeping his shirt on in previous films- see Matt Damon's hilarious impression of the Texan actor after the #1 spot.
1. Joe Cooper – Killer Joe
It was a performance that nobody- myself included- thought that McConaughey had in him. Playing the suave, dirty cop who moonlights as a contract killer, McConaughey uses his natural charisma and charm to chilling effect in this darkly comic thriller from William Friedkin, which is sure to gain cult status over the coming years. It may very well be the defining role of his career re- vamp and the yardstick by which all subsequent performances from the Texan may be measured. And the chicken bone scene…the chicken bone scene. Enough to put you off chicken for a month.
And here's something else you won't forget: Matt Damon's now legendary impression of Matthew McConaughey: