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Ten Deep 3.13.14: Top 10 Matthew McConaughey Film Roles
Posted by Mike Gorman on 03.13.2014

" Top Ten Matthew McConaughey Film Roles"

With his Oscar win last week and this week's season finale of HBO's True Detective, Matthew McConaughey has definitely captured the pop culture spotlight of late. In this week's Ten Deep I take a look at his top ten film roles. Some will be no brainers, and others might be a bit out of left field, but all reflect the work McConaughey puts into creating his characters and his own persona. I make no claims that these are the best films out there, just that McConaughey's part in them certainly deserves recognition.

10. Tripp in Failure to Launch

The tenth spot on the list is really dedicated to a character that McConaughey has played in around a dozen romantic comedies. He's cornered the market on the relatively harmless boyfriend with the devilish glint in his eyes. I chose his performance as Tripp in Failure to Launch here because it just seemed to be a nice summary of all the many loveable jerks he has portrayed except this time the "should we like him or hate" question gets asked in a very strong manner. It becomes quickly obvious why his parents wanted him out of their house to begin with.


9. Dallas in Magic Mike

No it is not his dancing that I want to spotlight here, so leave those jokes to the side. Instead I chose McConaughey's turn as Dallas, owner of the strip club in Magic Mike, for the list because of his ability to bring wisdom and care to a character who very easily could have gone in a different direction. It is McConaughey's ability to bring clash to a man who should be more trash that makes this performance shine.


8. Jack Lengyel in We Are Marshall

Based on a real life tragedy, We Are Marshall does fall into the usual traps of coming off as more of a feel good, motivational speech than a historic record of the reality of a horrible situation's aftermath. I think it is because it did this that McConaughey's performance as the coach who is chosen to step into the situation that makes him stand out. There is a realness and emotion he brings to each of his scenes that does give the experience a weight it deserves.

7. Mickey Halle in The Lincoln Lawyer

As we get deeper into the list we see the roles where McConaughey gets to play sleezy and charming at the same time, one of hive gifts, start to emerge. This is very true of his performance as Mickey Halle in The Lincoln Lawyer. Here he plays a lawyer, automatically sleezy, who takes it to such a degree that he has to work out of a car to keep his whereabouts changing. McConaughey's Mickey inspires trust and the want to wash your hand after you shake his at the same time.

6. Rick Peck in Tropic Thunder

As Rick Peck in Tropic Thunder, McConaughey turns a minor role into a memorable performance by ramping up his trademark intensity to new levels and channeling it into some pretty unique fixations. Peck is going to get his client the Tivo he deserves even if he has to go to the jungle himself to make it happen. In a film full of standout comedic performances I would put McConaughey's up there as one of the best.


5. Killer Joe Cooper in Killer Joe

In Killer Joe, McConaughey plays to the darker side of comedy and in doing so turns in yet another performance of not. His Killer Joe Cooper first appears to be a caricature but by the film's end is shown to be more than just what he appears on the surface. There is a deep river of twisted emotion that runs through and fuels Killer Joe Cooper, and McConaughey manages to bring it over the top pull it back as needed as the story goes on.


4. Denton Van Zan in Reign of Fire

As Denton Van Zan in Reign of Fire, McConaughey's intensity seems a stark reminder of the conditions at hand. The world has been decimated by dragons and it will only be saved by those willing to stand toe to toe with the flame breathers. McConaughey makes you believe that Van Zan would indeed take on a dragon with only his hands and an axe. In the film he is the irresistible force up against Christian Bale's immovable object. There is a nice contrast here between Bale's depth and calm and McConaughey's fire, no pun intended.


3. David Wooderson in Dazed and Confused

If there is one character whose demeanor and manner are most associated with McConaughey off-screen as they are on-screen it would be David Wooderson in Dazed and Confused. It was Wooderson who first uttered the phrase that we still most identify McConaughey with today, his "Alright, alright, alright." Wooderson was the supremely laid back adult who peaked in high school and therefore just chose to never let those days go. McConaughey may not have the porn star stache that Wooderson rocked but he still exudes the ease and control.


2. Ron Woodroof in Dallas Buyers Club

We come to the role that won McConaughey the Oscar just last week. It is also the role that required him to shed many pounds and many of his trademark mannerisms. The real Ron Woodroof is a complex man who stood up when other people told him it was his time to give up and sit down. McConaughey brought a different kind of fire to his performance as he brought Woodroof to the big screen. His performance here was not about explosive over the top gestures or charisma, as much as it was about portraying fear, hope and a desire to live. I am certain many of you will probably fault me for not giving this fantastic performance the number one spot, but that belongs to a role that haunts me many years after I first saw it.


And finally…

1. Adam Meiks in Frailty

Yes, I am giving the top spot to McConaughey's performance in what I consider to be an underrated thriller, Frailty. In the movie, McConaughey is the narrator of what seems to be a tale of one family's descent into madness. As he reveals each new detail, your belief in just how crazy the story is grows stronger, like the scent grows as you peel back the layers of an onion. Then we reach the end where it is revealed that insanity might not actually be the case here, it might actually be closer to divinity. It is that hook that McConaughey keeps you dangling on for the length of the film until his true identity and purpose are revealed. There's no smarmy charm or snark here, no wink and a smile, just an intensity that boils beneath the surface until the climax. I truly feel it is some of McConaughey's best work.


Upset with my selections? Why not take a deep breath and embrace the calm that is "The Origin of Matthew McConaughey's 'Alright, Alright, Alright'."


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