For Your Consideration: Matthew McConaughey in 'Magic Mike'

When "Magic Mike" was first announced, the world took it as a colossal joke. Channing Tatum getting the biopic treatment? By Steven Soderbergh? It wasn't quite the cinematic end times, but it was certainly a sign to many that Hollywood — even someone like Soderbergh — had run out of ideas. Studios were becoming so desperate to cash in on a brand that they would pretend Channing Tatum was one.

When the first cast member to sign on was Matthew McConaughey, the movie-watching world rolled its eyes. McConaughey was the finishing dollop of cheese (and chest muscle) that signaled this movie was nothing more than celluloid junk food. Yes, "The Lincoln Lawyer" had won our favorite shirtless surfer some dramatic credibility back, but "Magic Mike" appeared to be a regression into fluff, as if he was trying to atone for wearing a shirt and tie for an entire film. The casting of beefcakes that followed — Alex Pettyfer, Joe Manganiello, Matt Bomer and Adam Rodriguez — didn't bolster the confidence or enthusiasm of cinephiles. At best, Soderbergh was going to turn out a harmless piece of eye-candy for his new friend Channing. At worst, it was going to be, well, a Matthew McConaughey movie.

But then the buzz started. The film wrapped in late October 2011 and was immediately snapped up for distribution by Warner Bros. Insiders were whispering that, despite its appearance, its cast and its dubious origin, the movie was actually really good. It wasn't long before test screenings singled out McConaughey's performance as a highlight and an early frontrunner for an Oscar nomination. Once June rolled around, the hype turned out to be true, and the praise has clung to him like a pair of sweaty stripper chaps. The Indie Spirit Awards announced a nomination for McConaughey for Best Supporting Actor - the question is whether or not Dallas can "All right, all right, all right" himself into the Academy Awards.

By now, those who have assiduously avoided "Magic Mike" are scoffing. An Oscar nomination for a stripper named Dallas? For a movie called "Magic Mike"? Is everyone high? Isn't it just the same old drawling McConaughey? What's special about this incarnation except the thong?

Dallas is also obsessive and driven, but in a way we initially appreciate. He wants to put on the best beefcake show in Tampa, and his dream is to make enough money to take Xquisite to Miami. When the show has technical errors (Tarzan passes out), Dallas flips out in a way anyone in a high-stress and chaotic job will identify with. The show must go on, the audience must be satisfied, and no one seems to care more about that than Dallas.

However, the man running a show called Xquisite isn't exactly the businessman next door. Unsurprisingly, Dallas has a dark side. His relationship with his dancers is unsettlingly intimate and kinky. His view of women is a grim mix of romance and consumerism. His female audience is something to be pleased and teased (his "Ladies of Tampa" song is genuinely sweet), but they're also something to be crassly derided. Dallas proclaims them to be a screaming and desperate horde, easily manipulated out of their $20 bills with each pelvic thrust and direct eye contact. He's the portrait of the artist as a scumbag.

Even better, it's not just Dallas revealing his true colors but the film itself. We thought "Magic Mike" was a smutty comedy with a character named Big Dick Richie, but Dallas's I-own-you-moment turns it into a thoroughly adult film that could have been made in the '70s with Warren Beatty or James Caan sporting his studded thong.

Seemingly overnight, McConaughey has reinvented himself as a dedicated indie actor, willing to strip, wax and starve himself in order to achieve authenticity. If it was revealed tomorrow that McConaughey is actually a character being played by Daniel Day-Lewis in his most method performance to date, it would only be slightly less weird than what's actually happened to the "Dazed and Confused" star. The Academy loves a career resurrection as much as they love flashy roles, and McConaughey has provided both. He probably won't win against heavyweight favorites such as Philip Seymour Hoffman ("The Master") or Tommy Lee Jones ("Lincoln"), but with a thong full of twenties and newfound industry respect, we think he already has.

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