Wednesday, October 30, 2013


In 1985, freewheeling electrician Ron Woodruff (Matthew McConaughey) was diagnosed as HIV-positive at a time when AIDS was a still unfamiliar virus, untreatable and associated with queers and lowlifes. Also a drug-using sex fiend, the diagnosis should've came as no surprise to the rodeo-loving Dallas cowboy. He goes from denying his condemnation of only 30 days left to live, claiming there's no way he has the same disease as "faggots," to eventual panic, and then newfound resilience to stay alive and outlast his expiration date. "Dallas Buyers Club" encapsulates the true spirit of independent film and taking a grim subject matter head on is perhaps even more fun than one would imagine.

Director Jean-Marc Vallee ("Young Victoria") and his screenwriters Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack have taken a complicated true life story and have finessed it into a supremely entertaining film, infusing humor without ever undermining key moments of drama. It moves along briskly and intelligently, educating while never condescending as we learn of the blockades and loopholes of pharmaceutical companies and the FDA. Woodruff, against all odds, pioneers this uphill battle against them after well-meaning doctor, Eve (Jennifer Garner), tells him about AZT, the only drug case study restrictively available to the public.

After landing himself in a Mexican hospital where drugs combating AIDS are the norm, Woodruff gets the business idea to smuggle the drugs north and start selling to those in need. What starts off as a selfish idea for his own gain turns into a completely selfless act as Woodruff grows his Dallas Buyers Club business, offering $400 for a monthly membership which supplies unlimited access to alternative medications. The transformation from ignorant bigot to a man who experienced the frustration of being ostracized and honestly wanted to do something right is handled with such nuance and comes as no small feat from Matthew McConaughey.

McConaughey shed not only more than 40 pounds for the performance, but he also shed his past persona of rom-com go-to guy, quickly becoming the new indie master with last year's "Bernie" and "Magic Mike" and this year's "Mud" and now this. He disappears in the role behind a physicality that is shocking. Likewise, 30 Seconds to Mars frontman Jared Leto lost 28 pounds for his first screen performance in four years (since 2009's little-seen "Mr. Nobody"), and he's a powerhouse. As the slinky transvestite Rayon who becomes Woodruff's partner in crime, Leto steals the show.

"Dallas Buyers Club" peters off by the end of its nearly two-hour running time instead of going out with a dramatic wallop. But the entire film is buoyed by completely transformative performances from McConaughey and Leto that entertain, enlighten and will be rightfully recognized come awards time.

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