Dallas Buyers Club (R) ★★★½

Matthew McConaughey stars in "Dallas Buyers Club." Photo credit: Focus Features
Matthew McConaughey stars in “Dallas Buyers Club.” Photo credit: Focus Features

One of McConaughey’s Best Performances Yet

“We estimate you have 30 days to live. Put your affairs in order.” Those were the words Ron Woodroof heard from doctors after a minor electrical shock landed him in the hospital and a quick turn of events proved he was H.I.V. positive.

Inspired by true events, Dallas Buyers Club focuses on electrician and part-time rodeo cowboy, Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey, Magic Mike, 2012) who fights for his survival during an uncertain time in America. After being blindsided with an H.I.V. diagnosis – Woodruff decides the disease won’t be his death sentence and feverishly researches the disease. He discovers a lack of approved treatments and medications in the U.S. and crosses the border into Mexico to discover alternative treatments. After his health dramatically improves, Woodruff begins smuggling medicine into the U.S. to sell to others facing the same desperation.

Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée (The Young Victoria, 2009), this drama, set in 1985, showcases a time in history when the AIDS epidemic had people scared, especially in the gay community. McConaughey, whose past roles typically included obligatory shirtless scenes to showcase his physique, will shock audiences with his emaciated frame. The native Texan’s stunning physical transformation coupled with his performance as the repulsive yet charismatic salesman will have audiences transfixed. The film also takes a look the politics of medicine and examines whether terminal patients can have access to alternative medicines and treatments even if it’s not prescribed or FDA approved. While the subject matter may not be for all, those who can withstand seeing blood, cocaine, phlegm, nudity, heroin and prostitutes should make Dallas Buyers Club worth their while.

Ron surprisingly pairs up with fellow AIDS victim Rayon (Jared Leto, Mr. Nobody, 2009), a transsexual who, like Ron, wants to live life to the fullest. The duo begin selling non-approved medicines and supplements and establish a “buyers club,” where those with the disease pay monthly dues for access to the newly acquired treatment. Ron is ostracized by his friends and coworkers because of the possible homophobic stigma of AIDS but he eventually overcomes his own prejudice. His unassuming and heartwarming friendship with Rayon is easily one of best elements of the film. Leto’s striking performance as Ron is not to be missed. He could easily receive an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

Jennifer Garner (The Odd Life of Timothy Green, 2012), who plays Ron’s doctor, adds necessary warmth to the screen. She’s grounded, empathetic and Ron’s crush on her adds some humanity to the film.

The physically demanding role took a toll on McConaughey. His weight loss process spanned four months before filming began while consulting with doctors along the way. He ultimately shed nearly 50 pounds to play Ron at around 140 pounds for the majority of the film. There is one unforgettable hospital scene where he’s so thin that his bones stick out. He filmed this hospital scene at 135 pounds. McConaughey’s regimen consisted of 98 percent dieting and two percent exercise in order to successfully shed muscle mass in enough time. He also admitted to chewing a lot of ice.

Like McConaughey, Leto dropped weight for his role as well. Within three weeks, Leto fasted to portray Rayon’s skeletal body that was being traumatized by AIDS and drug abuse. By the time filming began, Leto weighed a meager 116 pounds.

Costume designers also worked to accentuate the weight fluctuations of the characters by changing the sizes and dimensions of clothing. At McConaughey’s lowest points, he wore clothes a few sizes bigger than normal.

Vallee’s direction was excellent. The entire film was shot within 25 days with no lighting and handheld cameras.

Bottom Line? If you can handle the extreme and difficult subject matter, Dallas Buyers Club is a must see. McConaughey’s remarkable performance should earn him an Oscar nod for Best Actor.

Cast: Matthew McConaughey (Ron Woodroof), Jered Leto (Rayon), Jennifer Garner (Dr. Eve Saks), Denis O’Hare (Dr. Sevard), Steve Zahn (Tucker), Dallas Roberts (David Wayne), Kevin Rankin (T.J.)

Credits: Director Jean-Marc Vallée; Writers Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack (screenplay)

Studio: Focus Features

Run Time: 117 minutes

Jessica Aymond © November 7, 2013