Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto
Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallée (“The Young Victoria”)
Written by: Melisa Wallack (“Mirror Mirror”) and Craig Borten (debut)
If you thought actor Matthew McConaughey offered up career-best performances last year in “Killer Joe” and “Magic Mike,” 2013 only proves those roles were anything but a fluke. Sure, it’s easy to mock McConaughey for his rom-com debacles that have come and gone in the last few years (not to mention the unwarranted shirtless scenes that make the ladies hoot and holler), but there was really no reason to think his acting chops wouldn’t reveal themselves sooner or later. He had pulled his own weight in films like “Lone Star” and “A Time to Kill,” so it was only a matter of time before a few more well-written scripts crossed paths with the now 44-year-old actor from Uvalde, Texas.
Two strong screenplays found their way to McConaughey this year. In “Mud,” he showed his range playing a criminal on the run who enlists the help of a couple of young boys. Now, square in the middle of awards season, McConaughey gives us what will easily earn him the first Oscar nomination of his 30-year career. In the biopic “Dallas Buyers Club,” he portrays Ron Woodroof, an electrician/rodeo cowboy who is told by his doctors in 1985 that he is HIV-positive. Reluctant to accept his diagnosis (the epidemic is fairly new and Ron thinks AIDS is a disease only “faggots” get), Ron brushes off the news despite the doctors only giving him 30 days to live.
But as his health deteriorates, Ron decides to do a little research on his own and soon realizes his promiscuous lifestyle and drug use throughout the years have, in fact, led to his sickness. Ron, however, isn’t ready to give up. He’s also unwilling to believe his doctors are doing everything they can to save his life. Ron takes his treatment into his own hands and creates the Dallas Buyers Club, an underground organization where, for the price of membership, he makes unapproved HIV drugs he illegally brings in from other countries available to fellow patients. With the FDA breathing down his neck, he and his business partner and HIV-positive transsexual Rayon (Jared Leto, also in a career-best performance) fight through the system while giving hope to people who would, instead, just be waiting around to die.
While Ron isn’t what you would consider a likeable character, especially in the first half of the film when his homophobia is on display, McConaughey slowly brings viewers to a place where we can sympathize with everything he is going through. McConaughey’s drastic weight loss to play the role might be hogging all the headlines, but it’s more than his physical transformation that makes Ron a fascinating person. Credit for defining Ron on an emotional level definitely goes to screenwriter Melisa Wallack (“Mirror Mirror”) and first-time writer Craig Borten, who give us an effective character study of a man who refused to take no for an answer. There might be a few fragile decisions made in the narrative from a historical aspect, but what McConaughey does on screen is enough to forgive “Dallas Buyers Club” of its storytelling shortcomings for the most part.