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In the early part of the twenty-first century, most critics and audiences would have agreed that Matthew McConaughey’s career had hit rock bottom. After staring in a line of dull and forgettable romantic comedies, his reputation as a serious actor appeared to have been tarnished. But in the last three years his career has bounced back in a big way. The highlight of this career turnaround (thus far) is Dallas Buyers Club, a film in which McConaughey gives his strongest performance to date. In his portrayal of the real life Ron Woodroof, a Texan who was diagnosed with AIDS in 1985, McConaughey is truly powerful in the role and his performance screams “Oscar Worthy”. His performance, along with an unbelievably great turn from Jared Leto, elevates Dallas Buyers Club from what could have been a schmaltzy and predictable biographic.

We’re first introduced to Ron Woodroof before he is diagnosed with the disease; he’s a homophobic scam artist who works his days as an electrician and his nights as a rodeo cowboy. One morning, he is electrocuted on the job and is sent to the hospital. Once there, the doctors tell him that he has HIV and that he has approximately thirty days to set his affairs in order. Woodroof doesn’t pay any attention to these warnings; he’s more offended that the doctor would insinuate that he was gay (a common misconception back then was that only homosexual men could contract AIDS).

But, as his condition worsens, Woodroof realizes that he needs medical help. The FDA is testing a new drug called AZT, but only 50% of test subjects receive treatment, while the remaining test subjects receive a placebo for testing. Woodroof takes a trip down to Mexico, where he discovers that there are numerous drugs that are more beneficial than AZT, but they simply have not been approved by the FDA. Realizing that these drugs could make him a lot of money, he transports large portions of them over the border and into the US. Woodroof teams up with a transgender drug addict named Rayon (Jared Leto) to prolong the lives of hundreds of AIDS victims and make a good chunk of money in the process.

Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée and written by Craig Borten & Melisa Wallack, the film has an inspiring story at its core, but it probably didn’t justify a full two hour runtime. The film hits a slump in its second half where the characters and the plot remain mostly stagnant and if this portion had been edited out, it would have made for a much tighter film. But even when the film is less engaging than it should be, Vallée is still able to make the film feel emotional without becoming trite. Equally deserving of credit in this regard are McConaughey and Leto.

Matthew McConaughey is so good in the role that most viewers may overlook how difficult of a task it is to portray the real life Ron Woodroof. At the film’s onset, his character is homophobic, sexist and just plain rude. McConaughey takes what should have been an unlikeable character and allows the audience to see the sliver of humanity that hides behind a curtain of prejudices. The scene where Woodroof is told that he has AIDS is incredibly well acted and a late scene in which he breaks down in a car is enough to bring a tear to one’s eye. Also fantastic is Jared Leto as Rayon, a character that causes Woodroof to see how wrong some of his beliefs are. Both actors have completely transformed themselves to fit their respective roles (both of them have reportedly lost over 30 pounds for the movie) and it helps give the film an authenticity that some biographical pictures are lacking. Oscar nominations are surely in both actors’ prospective futures.

It is these two performances that ultimately make Dallas Buyers Club worth seeing, but the rest of the cast is solid as well. Even when the film’s narrative seems to be going nowhere, any scene with McCounaghey and Leto still has enough energy to keep viewers interested. A late scene where we finally get to see Woodroof ride a bull is incredibly cathartic and uplifting to see. Against all odds, he has provided hundreds of people with the medical care when the US government has failed them. He has taken life by the horns and now there is nothing to stop him from becoming the best possible person he can be.

Dallas Buyers Club receives 3/4

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