There was a time, not so long ago, when Matthew McConaughey wasn’t taken particularly seriously as an actor.
After a big year — including “Mud,” “Wolf of Wall Street” and now his Oscar-nominated turn in “Dallas Buyers Club” — that won’t be a problem anymore.
McConaughey is marvelous as Ron Woodroof, an alcoholic, homophobic, redneck rodeo cowboy who transforms himself into the world’s unlikeliest AIDS activist.
The abrasive and profane Woodroof discovers that he has AIDS during the dark days of the mid-1980s and is given just 30 days to live. Unable to get any useful medical treatment, and shunned by his friends for contracting that “homo disease,” he digs in his spurs and refuses to go quietly.
The coke-sniffing con artist finds a combination of vitamins, supplements and non-FDA approved treatments that works for him and decides that while saving his own life he can make a few bucks in the process. Thus is born the Dallas Buyers Club, which tweaks the slow-moving medical establishment and gives hope to the many victims.
McConaughey lost more than 40 pounds for the role and he indeed looks dangerously gaunt and sickly. The performance, though, is about much more than just simple weight loss, and is clearly the best work of his resurgent career.
Every bit his equal, however, is Jared Leto, who plays street-smart transsexual Rayon, who forms an uneasy and unlikely partnership with Woodroof. Leto, who hasn’t appeared in a movie in four years (as he toured with his band), underwent a similar weight loss and endured the added difficulty of women’s clothing to give a spectacular performance, which also earned an Oscar nomination.
“Dallas Buyers Club” isn’t exactly a feel-good movie, and it preaches a little about big pharmaceutical companies and the FDA — perhaps rightly so. It’s still a fascinating look at one bigot’s remarkable transformation into someone who made a real difference, and it is well deserving of its six Oscar bids.
Rental Recommendation: Robin Williams is a doctor who brings Robert De Niro out of a long catatonic state in “Awakenings,” guaranteed to produce a tear or two. Grade: A-minus.
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"Dallas Buyers Club"
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner.
Rated: R (for pervasive language, some strong sexual content, nudity and drug use).
Running time: 117 minutes.