All Rise All Rise All Rise: The Lawyering Roles Of Matthew McConaughey
Lawyers do not have a particularly good image in this country, because f*ck you, try handling your own divorces and stat rape defenses, you fat dopes. If you’re going to ignorantly stereotype an entire group of professionals, try MBAs. Don’t get me started on those guys.
But, yeah, lawyers have a bad rep, so you might think that because they’re untrustworthy and largely not Gentiles, Earth’s #1 supplier of awesome Matthew McConaughey would never play one. Well, you’re right by accident, hypothetical dipsh*t I just made up–he hasn’t played a lawyer, he’s played FIVE. How is it the actor America loves to love constantly finds himself portraying the occupation America loves to hate?
That one’s tough to answer, but, because Double M is worshipped here to the degree that the site qualifies as a church under the tax code, it is high time I examined at least four of his lawyer roles.
1. The Land That Subtlety Forgot: A Time to Kill a Mockingbird(1996). This is where it begins for Matty Mac as a leading man. He had done good work prior to this–Dazed and Confused, of course, but don’t sleep on his supporting role as Buddy Deeds in Lone Star, also in’96–but this was his first chance to be The Guy.
The Case. MM plays Mississippi defense attorney Jake Tyler Brigance (decent character name). Then this happens:
The story comes from John Grisham. Remember him? As a prose stylist, he was essentially the drinking man’s Stephanie Meyer, with fewer sparkly characters and less moral ambiguity. So it doesn’t take Derrida to figure out who the good and bad guys are. Example: it takes place in the South, the defendant is black and the judge is named Omar Noose.
Double M is the goodest guy. SamueLL Jackson’s daughter is raped by two rednecks (seriously, one of them is “Billy Ray Cobb”), so rather than risk their acquittal, he shoots the sh*t out of them with, I think, a fully-automatic AR-15 (help me out here, Southerners). Emoting, skullduggery and KKKing ensue, leading to an impassioned closing argument (maybe SFW, but it’s ew):
Pretty solid work by our boy here. Lot of feeling, lot of closeups.
Production Note. The movie was actually filmed with the TBS logo in the lower right hand corner. They were confident that it would have a robust post-theatrical life on basic cable.
Yeah, But Is It Legal? The closing, while compelling, contains some extraneous sh*t that was never introduced as evidence–the whole thing about the witness’s teen bride, for instance. Overall, though, the argument he’s making isn’t, SLJ isn’t guilty because he didn’t do it (you saw the trailer, he totally did) or, he isn’t guilty because he was temporarily insane (the purported defense), but, he did it but you guys are cool with that, right? Which is not the way murder laws work, even in Mississippi, even for white defendants. But through the magic of “jury nullification”–basically, convincing 12 people to ignore the law when they reach their verdict–one might still get an acquittal. Take a wild guess as to whether sweaty mid-20’s McConaughey is able to do that.
In Case You Missed It. There’s actually a character named Omar F*cking Noose.
Rating: Where does this fall in the M&M-As-Lawyer micro canon? He is young and on the cusp of stardom, playing an unambiguously heroic attorney who risks his career, nay, his family and his life, to bring justice to The Blacks, occasionally wearing a sleeveless T in the process. On a scale of 1 to 4 UT-Austin sorority girls skinny dippin’ in the crik with Matt, I give ATTK the entire Alpha Phi pledge class of 1989.
And. If they make a trailer for the 20th anniversary rerelease of this one, the credits will be announced thusly:
Academy Award Winner Matthew McConaughey
Academy Award Winner Sandra Bullock
Academy Award Winner Kevin Spacey
Academy Award Winner Chris Cooper
Academy Award Winner Octavia Spencer
Academy Award Winner Brenda Fricker
Academy Award Nominee Samuel L. Jackson
in . . .
2. If That One Was Too Subtle For You, Check Out Amistad (1997). I had forgotten that mid-90’s McConaughey was the last, best hope for racial healing in the 20th Century. Sure, he [SPOILER] saved a black guy from the electric chair/guillotine/bitin’ snake/however they execute you in Mississippi in a Grisham movie, but f*ck that, time to save a bunch of black guys–not even “African-Americans,” we’re talking “African-Africans” here–from slavery. And he wasn’t doing it for them or for justice, he was serving a higher power.
The Case. A bunch of kidnapped Sierra Leoners mutinize the slave ship Amistad in 1839. Tried for murder in New Haven, the Africans are defended by Connecticut Yankee Roger Sherman Baldwin (unsatisfactory character name). And who better to play a fussy Yalie than Matt, other than anybody else?
Torn, as if between two lovers. As a real American, I want Matt to play every part in every movie. Joy Luck Club? Hell yes McConaughey should have played all them Asian ladies. But I really have my doubts about the wisdom of his casting here:
Yes, it answers the question, “why doesn’t he ever do accents?” But you have to admire Spielberg’s achievement here: any idiot can make McConaughey look cool, but it takes an Artiste to turn him into a dork. Check out the victory leap at 1:13 [note--this is only a semi-spoiler, because it happens about halfway through the movie]:
Rog definitely could have used some Magic Mike guidance on his moves.
Guh and Double Guh. I’m not sure at what point Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark Spielberg turned into War Horse Spielberg, but I consider Amistad gateway schlock. Yes, it’s a true story worth telling, but as with Lincoln, it’s not that interesting to watch a debate in which the audience has absolutely no question as to who’s right and who’s wrong. Worse, Spielberg tells you exactly how to feel at every step along the way–I think I posted the only clip in which the action isn’t punctuated by the swelling John Williams score. Worse worse, the case is procedurally complicated–after Matt wins, the case has to be tried again in front of the Supreme Court. Worse worse worse, Matt wasn’t really the star of the movie, so the climactic argument is made by Anthony Hopkins, playing John Quincy Adams.
And. There is some able supporting work here from Chiwetel Ejiofor as a translator. My guess is that at the Oscars this year, MaMc and ChEj compared notes with fellow Best Actor nominees Leonardo DiCaprio (Catch Me If You Can) and Christian Bale (Empire of the Sun) on their experiences in The Lesser Films of Spielberg, as Bruce Dern looked on malevolently.
3. No Summary About This One: Thirteen Conversations About One Thing (2001). Here’s the IMDb description:
In the description, is that first period a typo or did somebody want the sentence to end at “face.”?
Anybody seen this movie? Anybody know of anybody who has? Until I get a compelling-ass recommendation, don’t expect me to watch it. The two IMDb plot summarizers don’t even agree on whether MM’s character, Troy (passable Matt character name), is a prosecutor or defense attorney. I know zero things about this movie, but based on the description above, I doubt it will cause happiness in the face.
To Be Continued. I will cover the remaining two films at a later date. In the meantime, enjoy this take on McConaughey by fellow attorney Jared Franklin (starting at 1:50):
Pretty ridiculous that he was cast as Matt’s brother (in the aforementioned Ghosts of Girlfriends Past). That role was made for Bash, son.
Be well y’all.