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Matthew McConaughey: The five roles that lead to the Oscar

Sara Menéndez Monday 17 March 2014

With a cinema career dating back 20 years, Matthew McConaughey has just won his first Oscar, and in no less a category than that of Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role, awarded for his work in 'Dallas Buyers Club'. The 44-year-old Texan is enjoying the best time of his career at the moment, with roles and accolades in abundance, and this comes after his career took the kind of decisive turn few can hope to experience. His time in films can essentially be divided into three main stages, with each bringing greater success and seeing the actor growing in maturity. The first stage covers the 1990s, a period involving mostly dramas and the occasional comedy, as well as his first major role, in a 'A Time to Kill' (1996). The second stage of his career is probably the one for which he's best known: namely the decade he spent making romantic comedies. This lasted until 2009, the year he made his last film in the genre, 'The Ghosts of Girlfriends Past'.

However, it's the present stage of his career we want to examine here. His most recent roles have brought him wide acclaim, especially following his work in the HBO series 'True Detective'. Though it was 'Dallas Buyers Club' that ultimately led to the Oscar win, it is perhaps the following succession of surprisingly good performances that shows why this year's award only goes some way to rewarding his talent.

'Killer Joe' (2011)

Playing eccentric characters is a good way for actors to demonstrate what they are capable of and make themselves known to audiences. It has to be done well, however, and Matthew McConaughey certainly knows how. He managed to win the role of the film's main protagonist -he plays Killer Joe, a sadistic police detective who also happens to be a contract killer. Directed by William Friedkin (of 'The Exorcist' fame), the film tells the story of a family who decide to kill the mother in order to claim her life insurance, but they need somebody else to carry out the killing, so they hire Killer Joe. A thriller with touches of dark humor, it wouldn't have been so well-received critically if it wasn't for McConaughey's ability to both entertain and unsettle the viewer. It was considered the role of his career at the time; until, of course, the next ones came along.

'Mud' (2012)

Combining elements of drama, romance, action and the buddy movie, this film won't disappoint anyone who watches it. Mud is a man living hidden on an island in the Mississippi. He strikes up a friendship with two adolescent boys after they encounter him when exploring the area. What begins as an innocent children's adventure leads them into something much more serious; because their friend Mud is on the run from a situation involving a murder, and his plan is to make his escape accompanied by the love of his life, played by the excellent Reese Witherspoon. Once again, McConaughey's interpretation of an unorthodox character -which is what Mud is- received high praise from both audiences and critics alike. The actor's transformation was now under way, but nobody was talking about it yet.

'Magic Mike' (2012)

This film attracted much attention because of its main claim to fame, its subject matter: a group of dancing, male strippers led by Matthew McConaughey, who this time appears in a supporting role. Because of the nature of the film it was perceived to be mindless entertainment aimed at a female audience, until the reviews appeared that is. They varied widely in tone, from the fiercest criticism, branding the film just another product of the Hollywood machine made purely for the box-office, to those that dug a little deeper and came to appreciate the film's message. However, most of the critics were united in their opinion that McConaughey turned in an excellent performance; and given the subsequent success of 'Magic Mike' audiences were much in agreement.

'The Paperboy' (2012)

Once again, McConaughey proved to be one of the film's strongest points, though this time he did it alongside an outstanding Nicole Kidman. With a style and plot reminiscent of a B movie (Who says that's necessarily a bad thing?), this is a strange, unusual and gruesome film, which explains why it was generally not very well received. But the film's disconcerting atmosphere should not dissuade one from seeing it, because McConaughey's complex performance, in the role of a journalist investigating a murder in a bid to help clear the name of the principal accused, is not to be missed, and earned him two critics' awards at home.

'Dallas Buyers Club' (2013)

Undoubtedly, it's difficult to ignore his performance as Rob Woodroof. As well as earning him a Golden Globe and an Oscar following the first nomination of his career, audiences were intrigued to see the film for which McConaughey had to follow an extreme diet to make himself emaciated enough for the role. It can't have been easy for a film with a storyline so akin to something from the world of independent cinema, with a plot involving a homophobic cowboy, helped by a transvestite, sourcing and selling unapproved AIDS medicines in the USA, but the film was outstanding thanks to the performances of its actors. McConaughey managed to convey to the audience the battle waged by the character, a very strong character, against the big guys, as well as his greatest highs and his emotional lows. A few days after its premier, many were eager to see justice done in the handing out of the prizes, since Jared Leto also came away with a statuette for his supporting role.

A special mention for 'True Detective' (2014)

His involvement in this television series must be highlighted here because it has earned him a place in the hearts of both fans of the format and those who aren't its fans. Matthew McConaughey has become the name on critics and viewers' lips, and justifiably so after bringing us yet another unorthodox character, as he's had a habit of doing recently. He plays a tormented detective with an empty and nihilistic view of people, something that gets on the nerves of his religious and traditionally-minded partner (Woody Harrelson). His work represents the sole driving force in his life, a life in which he has been dealt so many blows- whether that's due to some kind of mental instability or simply his pessimistic nature is open to speculation. The character is a troubling one who, unsurprisingly, has earned the sympathy and devotion of audiences. Having confirmed he won't be involved in the next series (the format will be that of 'American Horror Story', where each series starts afresh with a completely different story and setting), let's hope that he's going to have some television awards to add to the prizes he's begun to leave in his wake.

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