Just when it looked like Matthew McConaughey had run his career into the ground after the abysmal Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, he took a break for a couple years and made a spectacular return in Lincoln Lawyer. From there on his films have been higher profile and his performances better than ever. Long gone are the days of Fools Gold, Failure to Launch, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, and The Wedding Planner.
Now McConaughey seems to be picking his roles more carefully and we are seeing him star in better films such as Lincoln Lawyer, Mud, Killer Joe, and Magic Mike. Granted, Magic Mike mostly falls under the category of his rom-com features, but his performance was almost like it came from another, even better, film. In Dallas Buyers Club, McConaughey gives the best performance of his career yet.
In 1985, Ron Woodroof (McConaughey) is a party animal. He loves rodeos, drugs, alcohol, and promiscuous sex. Sometimes he even squeezes in a little threesome involving an extra man. After migraines and fainting spells, a work accident throws him in the hospital where Dr. Eve Saks (Jennifer Garner) and Dr. Sevard (Denis O’Hare) make his day go from bad to worse when they give him the news that he has tested positive for HIV with a T-cell count of 9—the average healthy person has over 500—and 30 days to live.
Ron refuses to accept his death sentence and paves his own path for glory after the trial drug AZT nearly kills him and gives him full-blown AIDS. Now, Ron joins forces with fellow patient Rayon (Jared Leto), to form the Dallas Buyers Club. Membership costs $400 and allows you all the scripts you can handle, smuggled in by Ron via Mexico from discredited Dr. Vass (Griffin Dunne), with Richard Barkley (Michael O’Neill) of the FDA declaring war against Ron and the health of his club members.
If Dallas Buyers Club sounds like typical Oscar bait, you’d be right. But that doesn’t stop the film from telling an important piece of history. It was a scary time in the ’80s with the newly spreading AIDS epidemic. The film has doctors wearing facemasks to meet with patients. Everyone is scared of touching anyone infected with the virus. Homosexual slurs are also slung with poison, most of which come from Ron, but of course he eventually changes his homophobic ways as he comes to terms with his own eventual demise.
The cast is a powerhouse with Leto stealing the show. If he doesn’t get an Oscar nomination, it would be catastrophic. The same goes for McConaughey. Both give such powerful character transformations, you forget you’re even watching actors and it almost starts to feel like a documentary. Director Jean-Marc Vallée (The Young Victoria) delivers one of the year’s most heartbreaking films, but screenwriters Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack keep an undercurrent of humor, making sure things never get too dour. Coincidentally, so did Philadelphia. Whether you see Dallas Buyers Club or not—and you absolutely should—you will see it at the next Oscar ceremony.
Photos courtesy Focus Features