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Matthew McConaughey is Remarkable in “Dallas Buyers Club”

November 1, 2013

By John Corrado

Dallas Buyers Club PosterA passionate look at the AIDS crisis and how one man played the corrupt system to help save lives, Dallas Buyers Club is carried by a remarkable performance from Matthew McConaughey that could easily lead the charge to Oscar night.  The film opens today in limited release.

After missing the world premiere at TIFF, I finally caught up with the film at a press screening early last week, and scenes keep coming back to me every time I think about it.  This is powerful stuff and one of the best movies of the year.

The year is 1986, and Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) is an electrician living the rough Texas life, spending whatever money he doesn’t use for drugs and hookers to place bets at the rodeo.  But then he is diagnosed with HIV and given thirty days to live.  At first he rejects the news, before reality sets in.  Fighting to survive, he gets his hands on AZT, a drug that was unsuccessfully used to treat cancer and is undergoing controlled human trials for AIDS.  But the pharmaceutical has serious side effects that land him back in the hospital where he meets a fellow patient, the spirited transsexual Rayon (Jared Leto).

Determined to find help elsewhere, Ron goes to Mexico, where he is given vitamins and proteins that miraculously restore some of his previous drive.  So he starts smuggling the natural medications back to the States, where he turns a profit by providing them to other patients, operating under the technicality that he isn’t actually selling drugs, rather having his customers pay for memberships that provide them with free access to the treatments.  He becomes involved with Eve (Jennifer Garner), a kind doctor who is torn between doing her job at the hospital and turning a blind eye to the support that many of her patients are receiving on the side.  But the FDA becomes determined to shut him down in best interest of the pharmaceutical companies, despite the fact that his work is actually helping people.

Director Jean-Marc Vallée shot the film over just 27 days days using all natural lighting, which adds a sense of immediacy and makes the excellent performances feel even more personal.  Jared Leto deserves serious awards recognition for his multilayered supporting role, and Jennifer Garner turns in her best work since Juno in 2007.  Aided by the diaries of Ron Woodroof, Matthew McConaughey lost close to fifty pounds to portray this real life character, delivering a flawless performance that makes full use of his physical and emotional depth.  The actor has been on a winning streak as of late, including his excellent performance in the sleeper hit Mud earlier this year.

Allusions to current politics of the health care system are evident, and the questions that Dallas Buyers Club raises about allowing patients to find their own sources of treatment feel just as timely now as they did back then.  The emotional elements of the screenplay are just as powerful.  Based on a true story, the film touches on the universal struggle to find meaning in our lives, beautifully showing how this sense of purpose can come from helping others in the best ways we can.  At first, Ron Woodroof isn’t presented as a man who demands our sympathy.  Bound by the unfortunately prejudiced attitudes of the era, he starts out as a proudly homophobic cowboy who hurts those around him, freely using drugs and paying for sex.

But as he reacts to his diagnosis in surprising ways, we feel his struggle and start to genuinely care about this complicated person.  His redemption comes from helping others, but he will be damned if that means completely doing away with his thorny personality in the process.  Deep down, we get the sense that Ron is a caring man, and watching his unlikely friendship and mutual respect develop with the kindhearted Rayon is incredibly touching.  What makes Matthew McConaughey’s performance so remarkable is that he allows us to sympathize with this complex character throughout even the darkest moments, doing everything he can to save those around him and rescue his own broken life in the process.

As we watch him struggle not only with his own health, but also finding increasingly clever ways to get these people the unapproved treatments that might just prolong their lives, Dallas Buyers Club is by turns moving and entertaining, life affirming and deeply sad.  This is a special film that never loses sight of the humanity behind these characters, led by a mesmerizing performance from Matthew McConaughey.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Brittany Davis permalink
    June 2, 2016 3:58 pm

    Great review for a great movie.


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