Matt Dillon's Best Movies
In this week's Total Recall, we count down the best-reviewed work of the Sunlight Jr. star.
For a lot of teen idols, all that screaming adulation is a one-way ticket to oblivion -- but it can also be the first step in a long career. A case in point: Matt Dillon, who suffered his share of professional setbacks after rising to glowering fame in films such as The Outsiders and Rumble Fish, only to re-emerge at the end of the 1980s as a versatile actor with dramatic depth (Drugstore Cowboy) to match his gift for comedy (There's Something About Mary). With Dillon appearing in Sunlight Jr. this weekend, we thought now would be a great time to revisit some of his many critical highlights. It's time for Total Recall!
It can be tricky for a filmmaker to split the difference between "socially conscious" and "heavy-handed," but with 1993's The Saint of Fort Washington, director Tim Hunter managed to stay mostly on the right side of the line while telling the story of a schizophrenic man (Dillon) who's turned out onto the streets after the tenement where he's been sleeping is torn down. Beset by local bullies, he finds himself in desperate need of a friend -- and finds one in a homeless veteran (Danny Glover) who helps him adjust to life on his own. "Whatever its shortcomings," argued Janet Maslin for the New York Times, "The Saint of Fort Washington takes its subject very seriously, in ways that no audience can fail to find wrenchingly sad."
With Ted Demme behind the cameras, a script by Scott Rosenberg (High Fidelity), and a stellar ensemble cast that included Dillon, Uma Thurman, Natalie Portman, Mira Sorvino, and Timothy Hutton, how did Beautiful Girls end up grossing less than $11 million at the box office? Chalk it up to another of life's mysteries, but don't miss this tenderly drawn portrait of a group of friends grappling with the twilight of their 20s in a small Midwestern town. Though critics were quick to point out that dialogue-heavy films about maturity-fearing young adults weren't exactly novel, particularly during the mid-1990s, most reviews echoed the sentiments of Empire's Darren Bignell, who wrote, "This film really succeeds with its warm treatment of ordinary hang-ups -- no life-shattering revelations or pain repressed since childhood, just the genuine, everyday trials of life."
Dillon celebrated the flannelriffic early 1990s by growing his hair out and sporting a soul patch for Cameron Crowe's Singles, a Seattle-set, grunge-fueled look at the romantic entanglements of a group of Seattle twentysomethings. (If it sounds like a West Coast version of a certain long-running sitcom, there's a reason: NBC's foiled attempt to turn Singles into a series resulted in Friends.) Here, Dillon plays Cliff Poncier, the brooding frontman of Seattle band Citizen Dick (played by future members of Pearl Jam), whose relationship with Bridget Fonda's character acts as a counterpoint to the commitment struggles of another couple (played by Kyra Sedgwick and Campbell Scott). Released just as grunge artists were really starting to dominate the charts, Singles was more of a soundtrack phenomenon than a box office hit, but it found favor with most critics -- including Kevin N. Laforest of the Montreal Film Journal, who wrote, "Brilliant dialogue, killer musical cues and hilarious comic beats. It made me happy, it made me cry... Right movie, right time."
Dillon followed his turn as the unctuous bully in My Bodyguard with the title role in Tim Hunter's adaptation of the S.E. Hinton novel Tex -- a character described in the synopsis as "sweet" and "slightly dim." Critics were also pretty sweet on this Disney-distributed coming-of-age story, which follows the young McCormick brothers (played by Dillon and Jim Metzler) as they struggle to move on with their lives following the death of their mother and their abandonment by their father; as Roger Ebert summed it up in his review, "There is a shock of recognition almost from the beginning of Tex, because we're listening to the sound of American voices in an authentically American world."
Matt Dillon isn't generally known for his comedic skills, but with There's Something About Mary, he proved he could hold his own against a cast of funny people that included Ben Stiller, Chris Elliott, Sarah Silverman, and Jeffrey Tambor. Spending a great deal of the film in garishly capped teeth -- and serving as the centerpiece of some of the movie's most uncomfortably uproarious bits -- Dillon helped send the Farrelly brothers' cinematic coming-out party to a $369 million worldwide gross, and was a healthy part of why Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times deemed it "a giddy symphony of rude and raucous low humor."