Dallas Buyers Club

Matthew McConaughey continues his impressive mid-career run of outstanding performances with the role of Ron Woodroof, a Texas rodeo cowboy turned entrepreneurial AIDS activist.  The film tells the true story of how freewheeling, hard-partying Woodroof was blindsided by HIV in 1985, and given 30 days to live. Unable to obtain effective medicines because they lacked FDA approval, he used his considerable charm and talent to find both legal and illegal alternative treatments and market them to others suffering from the disease.  Director Jean-Marc Vallée (The Young Victoria) creates an evocative period look and style for the film. Dallas Buyer’s Club plays very much like an ‘80s movie about drug dealers, except in this case the substances procured and distributed by the protagonist are not illicit narcotics but vitamins and unapproved anti-viral medications. 

As with his recent turns in Mud, Killer Joe, Bernie, The Paperboy, and Magic Mike, this seems like a role only McConaughey could play. Though Woodroof was a real person, the character feels tailor-made for the lanky, self-assured Texan who, just a few years ago appeared (to me at least) to be an actor of extremely limited range and talent. Even though McConaughey dropped nearly 40 lbs to achieve the sickly, skin and bones look of a man suffering from AIDS at the beginning of the epidemic, his unique brand of cocky charm radiates from within his gaunt face and emaciated physique. Equally captivating is Jared Leto as the HIV positive transsexual with whom Woodroof teams up. Leto, who has transformed himself before, in films like Requiem for a Dream and Chapter 27, gives an unforgettably honest and moving performance in a role that risks being an overt Oscar showcase. Indeed, the entire film, which is both an historical drama, a disease picture, and a social-issue movie, risks crossing the fine line between honest, moving drama and grandstanding Oscarbait. There are a few brief occasions when it unfortunately does cross that line, becoming preachy and didactic. The presence of the always self-conscious Jennifer Garner in a major supporting role, and the way the establishment antagonists are written, also do not serve the film well in this regard.

But despite its minor flaws, this is a powerful picture set during a time few movies have explored well--the height of the AIDS crisis. Writers Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack find dozens of opportunities to inject humor and joy into this this rather bleak tale of an opportunistic wheeler-dealer who was able, at least for a short time, to help hundred of HIV infected individuals extend their lives. McConaughey and Leto both deliver emotionally charged individual performances, but they also create the kind of unlikely screen duo that burns itself into the annals of film history--a Joe Buck and Ratso Rizzo of the ACT-UP generation. 

Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée
Produced by Robbie Brenner and Rachel Winter

Screenplay by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack

With: Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner, Denis O'Hare, Dallas Roberts, Steve Zahn, Kevin Rankin, Steffie Grote, Bradford Cox, Jane McNeill, James DuMont, and Griffin Dunne

Cinematography: Yves Bélanger
Editing: Jean-Marc Vallée and Martin Pensa

Runtime: 117 min
Release Date: 12 December 2013
Aspect Ratio: 2.35 : 1