Set in the 1980’s, Matthew McConaughey stars as Ron Woodroof– a stereotypical Texas cowboy who drives a truck, works in construction, and performs as a bull rider on the weekends. Of course, life also includes heavy drug use and lots of casual sex, so Ron gets the shock of his life when he is diagnosed as HIV positive, and the doctor tells him he has one month left to live.
As his friends turn on him, he struggles to find a way to survive, since the main drug used to treat AIDS is violently toxic and other drugs approved in other countries are proving to be more beneficial, but not available to him.
Without legal access to better medication, Ron gets creative and becomes a leading drug dealer of non-FDA approved medicines to many AIDS patients trying to do whatever they can to survive.
McConaughey better keep his Oscar night free, because he will be getting an invitation to the big show. In Dallas Buyers Club, he is absolutely awesome doing everything he is great at. He’s a rascal, he’s charming, he’s smart, and he does a fantastic job bringing out the uglier side of Ron. He’s not some sort of lovable figure doing it for the right reasons, at the beginning, which makes the character so much more real and complicated.
Then, McConaughey fills Ron with an amazing will to live and his opinions about himself, his lifestyle and his fellow patients evolve, all of which should make people recognize his performance for more than losing shocking amount weight to look like a struggling patient. Writers Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack, along with director Jean-Marc Vallee make that evolution a measured one with tiny steps along the way, which eases the audience into the new fights Ron and his pals enter into with the FDA.
Amazingly, we do have one member of the cast who upstages McConaughey, and that’s Jared Leto as Rayon – a transsexual man who is being treated at the same hospital and becomes part of Ron’s scheme. Right now, I think he has to be the leading contender for Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars, maybe even more so than Michael Fassbender for 12 Years A Slave.
Leto brings that same complex dynamic of kindness, self-destructive behavior and new found compassion for those he never liked before with the added challenge of keeping the character from becoming a stereotype. Then, he makes Rayon into one of the most tragic characters in movies in 2013.
Dallas Buyers Club perfectly captures the attitudes, and unknowns about AIDS in the mid-1980’s showing society’s fear, the hatred from homophobes and the confusion the medical community and the patients suffered through in the face of a massive public health crisis that confounded the best and brightest minds of the time. And, Vallee deserves more credit than he will get for making a movie where emotion sneaks up on you.
Sure, we have the big moments, but so much more of Dallas Buyers Club is about getting to know these characters, which makes it so compelling.
Dallas Buyers Club is rated R for pervasive language, some strong sexual content, nudity and drug use