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Will the Real Matthew McConaughey Please Stand Up?


The Oscar winner brings his patented aw-right stuff to the role of an easygoing evildoer in The Dark Tower...

McConaughey has built a public stoner-philosopher image based on semi-profound non sequiturs.

It’s ironic that Matthew McConaughey’s breakthrough role was a guy who was “too old” to be doing what he was doing.

In Richard Linklater’s 1993 Dazed and Confused, McConaughey played Wooderson, a 21-year-old Casanova focused on high school girls.

In retrospect, Wooderson’s tagline: “I keep getting older, they stay the same age,” seems backward. We’ve been getting older; but partly through constant reinvention, McConaughey has somehow defied age and stayed relevant, a pop-culture figure spanning the decades.

He uttered his other trademark line from Dazed and Confused — “Aw-right, aw-right, aw-right!” — on the podium at the Academy Awards when he accepted his 2014 Best Actor Oscar for Jean-Marc Vallée’s AIDS-activist biopic Dallas Buyers Club, a dramatic movie unlike anything else he’d ever starred in.

That came on the heels of Magic Mike, another noteworthy stop on his career arc. C’mon, who plays a male stripper in his forties? (Let alone have the confidence to pull off the coy come-on stage line: “The law says you cannot touch, but I see a lot of lawbreakers in this house.”)

All this, and McConaughey has built a public stoner-philosopher image based on semi-profound non sequiturs, used to sell everything from performances to Lincolns (see sidebar). It kind of helps cement one’s reputation as a talented flake when your most infamous brush with the law involves a noise complaint over a session of “nude bongo-playing” at your house.

Last year saw McConaughey take another unusual screen turn — villainy. In the film adaptation of The Dark Tower, Stephen King’s “multiverse” sword-and-sorcery series of novels, he plays King’s recurring demon-villain-of-choice the Man in Black (introduced in The Stand as Randall Flagg and seen here as Walter Padick).

In a screen year where we were also introduced to such complicated villains as Spider-Man: Homecoming’s Vulture (Michael Keaton), who was motivated by things like love of family, McConaughey went straight to evil in portraying the nemesis of the ultimate good guy, the Gunslinger (Idris Elba).

It seems the Man in Black has been kidnapping psychic children from our world and taking them to Mid-World, hoping to use their “Shine” to destroy the Dark Tower, an edifice that is the linchpin of all existence. And he thinks he has finally found the right Shine in Jake (Tom Taylor), who can see monsters under human skin.

“The Man in Black and the Gunslinger share a history,” McConaughey said while promoting the movie in Los Angeles. “I want chaos, I want to unleash it. Good vs. evil, mythic proportions. It’s kind of a slick little love story, him chasing me across the desert for hundreds of centuries, if not thousands of years.” (And if that’s not a McConaughey-esque take on time, I don’t know what is. Wait, it gets better).

Through it all, “the Man in Black never breaks a sweat. I’m just dancing through the raindrops having fun, picking off people along the way with a grin and a kiss.”

Now that’s a Matthew McConaughey take on villainy!

It seemed lost on Hollywood earlier in McConaughey’s career that his natural Texas good-ol’-boy charisma and insouciance could be applied in so many ways.

It seemed lost on Hollywood earlier in McConaughey’s career that his natural Texas good-ol’-boy charisma and insouciance could be applied in so many ways. Maybe it was because his career was launched by the director of Slacker, but the actor seemed locked in man-boy roles, usually in romantic comedies. Case in point: Failure to Launch, the 2006 rom-com with Sarah Jessica Parker, in which McConaughey played a thirtysomething still living with his parents (don’t worry, SJP had him straightened out by the movie’s end).

McConaughey summed up his rom-com years in a GQ interview. “What’s a romantic comedy?” he said. “Boy meets girl. They get together. Something happens. Girl takes off. Boy chases girl. They get back together. The end. A lot of times the male is somewhat emasculated, meaning he has to crawl back and say, ‘I’m nothing without you.’

“And I was always like, ‘What girl wants that guy?’ ”

From the first decade of this century to the second, McConaughey’s career morphed into something entirely different, capped by both the Oscar and an Emmy nomination in 2014. The latter came courtesy of his role as a dissolute, alcoholic cop partnered with a hard-ass Woody Harrelson in the startling first season of the Twin Peaks-ish gothic crime series True Detective. (And just as an aside, why the heck did Harrelson and McConaughey never work together before?)

Next up? This year will see the release of another collaboration by McConaughey with a darling of the independent film scene, Harmony Korine. The Beach Bum is about “a rebellious stoner named Moondog who lives life by his own rules.”

A bit of a stretch, I know …

Jim Slotek is a Toronto movie critic and freelance entertainment journalist.