Saturday, April 2, 2011

Matthew and Jake Are Back on Track

CONFESSION: I cannot stand Matthew McConaughey. He began well as a lawyer in A TIME TO KILL, based on John Grisham's novel, giving an intense performance that lacked the vanity of his later efforts. But the rest of his career has been spent playing shirtless slackers opposite the likes of Kate Hudson. With that said, I still enjoyed the courtroom mystery of THE LINCOLN LAWYER, in which he plays (surprise) a somewhat sleazy LA lawyer whose office is a creaky, chauffer-driven Lincoln town car. Sometimes he's smart, but sometimes he's not, putting his desires ahead of his needs. He takes on the case of a rich playboy, played with steely cold by Ryan Phillippe, who's accused of rape and battery. But as a famed Dane once said, something is rotten in this case, which takes McConaughey into the darker regions of LA low life. Marisa Tomeii plays his ex-wife, who can't quite cut the strings. The film has the noir feeling of Raymond Chandler and does not disappoint.

FINALLY BACK TO FORM: When Jake Gyllenhaal popped on the scene in films like the inspiring OCTOBER SKY (1999) and the truly strange and creepily appealing DONNIE DARKO (2001), he began a promising career that led to strong performances in ZODIAC and especially the ground-breaking BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN (2005) opposite the late Heath Ledger. But his last two films have been major duds in which he was miscast as a medival hunk saving the day in PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME, an effects-laden swashbuckler in which he was all but lost. The other was even worse: the deplorable LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS in which he played a swinging Viagra salesman who falls for a feisty Parkinsons patient, embodied by an annoyingly perky Anne Hathaway. Naked or not, this unfortunate combo was in the poorest taste that tried to combine frat boy humor (Jake's slovenly gross brother--why is there always one of these slobs in movies today?), a serious disease, and even an orgy.

SO it is a pleasure that Gyllenhaal has bounced back in the new sci-fi thriller SOURCE CODE, in which he gets to bounce forward eight minutes in time in order to find a bomber hell-bent on blowing up Chicago. The film is smart, fast, and fun, even though it has some serious questions about terrorism and mind control. And Gyllenhaal delivers a nuanced performance that expresses charm, fear, and control.

It may be too late for McCounaghey, but Gyllenhaal has a chance of being a major leading man, depending on his film choices and the fickle taste of his public.

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