If anyone was to compile of list of Matthew McConaughey’s finest performances, I’m safe in assuming that the majority of the films on that list would have been released after 2011. In 2009, McConaughey decided to take two years off to transform his career, ultimately coming back to the scene with a vengeance. Today, he’s an Oscar front-runner for Best Actor and the most intriguing character on television (via HBO’s True Detective), just to name two feats of many.
So, far a bit of a change, I thought it’d be interesting to list my favorite McConaughey performances prior to his self-imposed career resurgence. Be sure to share yours as well!
5. Tropic Thunder (2008)
as Rick Peck
I remember watching McConaughey ham it up as a hyperbolic Hollywood agent in Tropic Thunder and thinking, “Jesus, this guy really does have something… when he wants to.” Before his role as Rick Peck, I honestly hadn’t enjoyed a McConaughey performance in several years, but Tropic Thunder was a perfect (if not frustrating) reminder that McConaughey had that thing, that spark… that desire to deliver.
4. Thirteen Conversations About One Thing (2001)
The criminally underseen Thirteen Conversations About One Thing is one of those films with a disjointed narrative in which every major character is somehow connected. At the film’s core is Troy, a hotshit district attorney whose life is altered after he commits a hit and run. We’re never sure why Troy drove away from the accident – could be he had too much to drink at happy hour, or pride, or fear, or all of the above – but it’s quite thrilling to watch Troy implode in anguish as he tries to determine his own fate.
3. Frailty (2001)
as Fenton Meiks
I kind of love Bill Paxton’s Frailty. It’s some sort of Southern gothic/horror/fantasy hybrid that always feels a little off. The movie is told in flashback from the perspective of Fenton Meiks, a troubled man who believes that his brother is a serial killer. But as we watch Fenton’s narrative unfold, we always suspect that details are being withheld. Fenton is an unreliable narrator, because he chooses to be. The result is a patient, quietly disturbing portrayal of a man who may or may not be completely fucking mad.
2. A Time to Kill (1996)
as Jake Brigance
Okay, so… I kind of love Joel Schumacher’s A Time to Kill, too. Appreciate is probably a better word than love, but the point is, I think it’s a honest and heartfelt examination of race in America, anchored by McConaughey’s strong performance as a naïve attorney. Whether he’s whaling violently for his dog to return home, or delivering a patient, gut wrenching closing argument, there’s really nothing about this performance that doesn’t work for me.
1. Dazed and Confused (1993)
Matthew McConaughey’s work as infamous townie David Wooderson is the definition of a star making performance. Every word is delivered to comic perfection, every strut is timed effortlessly, every movement is confident – it’s that beautiful, rare encounter of an actor being literally born to play a role.
And there’s the thing: Matthew McConaughey wasn’t even an actor when he was cast in this movie. As Richard Linklater was trying to find actors to flesh out the characters in his film, the producer of Dazed stumbled across McConaughey in a bar, and casually asked him if he wanted to play this Wooderson guy. At that point, Wooderson only had one scene and a handful of lines, but as filming progressed, Linklater had the foresight to see that he had tapped into pure gold in the form of Matthew McConaughey. The result is one of my all time favorite film characters – ceaselessly funny, forever iconic. All right, all right, all right.