News Column

Reading Eagle, Pa., George Hatza column

May 19, 2013

YellowBrix

May 19--Matthew McConaughey had planned on being a lawyer. Instead, in 1996, he played one in Joel Schumacher's film adaptation of John Grisham's "A Time To Kill." He caused a sensation. Handsome, idealistic, he drew comparisons to Paul Newman.

That same year he played a pivotal role in "Lone Star," a superior film (John Sayles is undeniably a more provocative director than Schumacher). Then something happened.

McConaughey disappeared into sappy romantic comedies and slacker films, dumb action and suspense pictures, grade B and lower. He had a couple of run-ins with the law in his native Texas, the most famous being his naked romp with bongo drums and marijuana in his living room.

But recently, McConaughey has been busy getting his act together in a series of strong films featuring daring turns.

His most recent is "Mud," in which he plays the title character in Jeff Nichols' film, inspired by "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" and set along the Mississippi River near a bland Arkansas town. Hiding out on an island in the middle of the river, waiting for his life's love to join him, he befriends two 14-year-old boys who believe his romantic tales and agree to help him.

It's Oscar-worthy work. Mud is at once terrifying and tender, damaged but resilient. He is the stuff of pirate tales. McConaughey may owe his performance to Nichols, perhaps best known for the enigmatic drama "Take Shelter," starring Michael Shannon (who has a small role in "Mud").

Add to the actor's remarkable work here his performances in "Magic Mike" (as Dallas, owner of a male strip club who ultimately betrays his best dancer, played by Channing Tatum); the satanic hit man in "Killer Joe"; and the obsessed, relentless prosecutor Danny Buck in the shrewd black comedy "Bernie."

Maybe his comeback has something to do with these pictures being set in the South, where McConaughey was reared, or all having been directed by highly regarded filmmakers: Steven Soderbergh ("Magic Mike"), William Friedkin ("Killer Joe"), Richard Linklater ("Bernie").

McConaughey has lived up to that initial promise. At last, he's a star.

Contact Entertainment Editor George Hatza: 610-371-5075 or ghatza@readingeagle.com.

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(c)2013 the Reading Eagle (Reading, Pa.)

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