Matthew McConaughey’s name is “Mud” — and that’s a compliment

Sometimes, getting the cover of Vanity Fair is NOT a good thing.

The buzz surrounding Matthew McConaughey’s debut in 1996’s “A Time to Kill” was pretty damned deafening. The media loves nothing more than a new It guy, and McConaughey was certainly that. Reporters gushed over him (and his resemblance to a young Paul Newman), and Vanity Fair slapped him on its cover, along with the headline “Lone star: Why Hollywood is so hot for Matthew McConaughey.”

Well, you know how these cycles work. Starry-eyed adoration inevitably skids into disparaging disappointment.

So, after McConaughey experienced box-office glory with “The Wedding Planner” and “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days,” he ended up starring in the underwhelming likes of “Fool’s Gold” (which I actually paid good money to see in the theater — I know!) and “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past.”

In the past few years, though, McConaughey has become a text-book lesson in Hollywood career makeovers. He has taken some supporting roles and some indie films — which happen to have offered him rich characters and thus the chance to show that, yes, dammit, he is a good actor. My favorite: his hilariously great turn as a flamboyant Southern prosecutor in “Bernie.”

And the latest: he’s “Mud.” McConaughey delivers as a man nicknamed Mud who is hiding on a deserted island in the Mississippi River, hoping to avoid some men who are chasing him and to reconnect with his love, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon). Conaughey shows paternal warmth to the 14-year-old boy who helps him, and he displays potent romantic angst over the fraught relationship with Juniper. (Spoiler alert: I was disappointed that Witherspoon and McConaughey don’t share a frame of the film.)

McConaughey shows a depth of feeling — and, of course, reserves of easy Southern charm — that gives “Mud” a soulful center.

What can we say? The actor is on quite a roll.

What did you think of “Mud”? What are your favorite McConaughey performances?

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