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Wednesday, July 26, 2006 06:34 pm

Reliable Dillon

Teen idol comes into his own as a respected adult actor

Overnight sensations often experience quick burnout, whereas those who build their careers over long periods enjoy sustained success. Matt Dillon definitely falls into the latter category, despite his start in the former. The title of his debut film, Over the Edge (1979) — in which he plays a troubled teen living in an oppressive desert community — seems apt for a completely overwrought film that taps into youthful rebellion against authority without understanding the problem. Histrionics overshadows logic, but that didn’t prevent the film from achieving cult status.

Edge vaulted Dillon to short-lived teen idol status, but now he is coming into his own as a respected adult actor after more than two decades of reliable work. The success of You, Me and Dupree and his well-deserved Oscar nomination for his searing portrayal of a racist cop in Crash (2004) validates his slow and steady rise.

Dillon’s other major teen roles are in Francis Coppola’s twin S.E. Hinton adaptations, The Outsiders (1983) and Rumble Fish (1983). Dillon was the biggest name among the cast of The Outsiders going in, but several of his co-stars went on to more fame. Tom Cruise, Emilio Estevez, Ralph Macchio, Rob Lowe, and Patrick Swayze shot past Dillon, but now only Cruise remains a bigger star. He had a more central role in Rumble Fish, a stark, almost avant-garde film that is the antithesis of the highly romanticized vision of teen gangs in The Outsiders. Dillon again is a troubled youth who lives in the shadow of his popular older brother (Mickey Rourke).
Dillon’s next move was to begin growing up with The Flamingo Kid (1984), a surprisingly good Garry Marshall comedy about a youth who gets a job at a New York beach club. Drugstore Cowboy (1989) gave Dillon his first great adult role, as the leader of a small group of junkies who carry out raids on pharmacies to support their drug habits. Drugstore wasn’t a box-office hit, but it definitely enhanced the reputations of Dillon and rising director Gus Van Sant. They reteamed for the dark satire To Die For (1995), in which Dillon played the unfortunate husband of the overly ambitious Nicole Kidman. Dillon’s career shifted more toward comedy in subsequent films, from the hit There’s Something About Mary (1998) to the obscure but worthy Employee of the Month (2004), but Dillon maintained a strong presence in drama.

He’s better than people realize.

New on DVD this Tuesday (Aug. 1):
The Shaggy Dog, V for Vendetta, and What the #$*! Do We Know!?

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