The Lincoln Lawyer, Killer Joe, Mud, Magic Mike, The Wolf of Wall Steet, The Dallas Buyers Club. Critical and/or commercial successes, each one of them. Many A-List actors can go a whole career without accumulating a CV like that. But Matthew McConaughey has made them all in less than three years. And he still found time for an entire mini-series, HBO’s superb True Detective. Oh, and he’s also got Christopher Nolan’s forthcoming (and presumably brilliant) Interstellar to come. This, after a decade spent mostly making terrible rom-coms (Fool’s Gold, How To Lose a Guy In Ten Days, Failure To Launch, The Wedding Planner).
Naturally, many were surprised that McConaughey was able to emerge from this river of dross to embark on such a run of quality. But those people have selective memories. Even at his lowest creative ebb, there was the occasional work of merit. There was his flashback role in the criminally-underrated Lone Star, solid support work in Contact and, best by far, his turn in Bill Paxton‘s directorial debut, Frailty.
Frailty begins with a man, Fenton Meiks (McConaughey) confessing to FBI agent Powers Boothe. Meiks describes how his father (played by Paxton himself in flashback), a deluded religious fanatic, recruited his two young sons to carry out a series of murders of people he was convinced were demons. As we cut between the present day confession in a cramped FBI field office and the flashback murders, what emerges is a superb piece of understated Southern Gothic horror, and McConaughey props it all up with the kind of intensity and laconic Southern drawl that ran through True Detective. Fans of that series could do a lot worse than check this film out. The interrogation scenes in True Detective in particular have parallels with Frailty’s confession scenes.
Paxton directs his first film with assurance, and it is a mystery to me why he has only made one film in the 13 years since. I hope he doesn’t wait too long before he directs again.