The Dallas Buyers Club is exceptional in large part due to the performance of Matthew McConaughey. Dismissed by many after years of cranking out disposable romantic comedies notable primarily for scenes where the actor showed off his sexy physique, the Texan movie star is in the midst of a career resurgence that began with 2011's The Lincoln Lawyer and continued with Killer Joe, Magic Mike and Mud. In The Dallas Buyers Club McConaughey knocks it out of the ballpark.
I wasn't looking forward to the film. McConaughey lost in the neighborhood of 50 pounds for the role and I don't approve of actors gaining or losing great amounts of weight for a part.
When The Dallas Buyers Club started, I winced at McConaughey's emaciated physical appearance, but within seconds he established his character so completely that I stopped thinking about what the actor did to his body.
In Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallee's film, McConaughey plays Ron Woodroof, a hard-partying 1980's Dallas redneck working as an electrician and rodeo cowboy. We first encounter him in the middle of a three-way with two rodeo groupies in a vacant holding pen.
When an electrical accident sends him to the hospital, a blood test is done and Woodroof is informed that he is HIV-positive and has roughly 30 days to live. His reaction is anger — how dare the doctors say he has a faggot disease!
If this sounds dreary and depressing, rest assured that McConaughey gives the proceedings a crackling sense of immediacy — and even humor — with his portrayal of Woodroof. The ornery good-old-boy not only outlives his expiration date, he comes up with a way to work around the system and bring in money, following the lead of New Yorkers and starting a buyers club. Instead of selling life-extending medications to fellow sufferers, he lets them become club members for $400 a month and gives them the combinations of vitamins and drugs he purchases from other countries.
Running the buyers club requires Woodroof to become involved with gay people. There are no Afterschool Special moments here — the alliance is born of necessity, but watching Woodroof's transformation from bigot to confederate is touching nonetheless. Particularly fascinating is his relationship with Rayon, a drug-addicted transsexual, expertly played by Jared Leto, who also lost an alarming amount of weight for the role.
I was so caught up by the story, so moved by the unsentimental screenplay, that I didn't step back and assess the film. The mark of an exceptional movie is that it involves you so completely that you don't notice, or care, about its rough spots.
Rated: R, **** (4 stars)