If 2012’s supporting turn in “Magic Mike” was the beginning of the resurgence of Matthew McConaughey, his three 2013 appearances in feature films have completed that renaissance. His all-too-brief appearance in “The Wolf of Wall Street” is memorable and transfixing, while his starring turn in one of the summer’s best films, “Mud” commands attention, but it was his take on real-life cowboy Ron Woodroof that was the pièce de résistance in his exceptional year.
“Dallas Buyers Club” is the true story of electrician and some-time rodeo bull-rider Ron Woodroof. It’s 1985 and AIDS is exploding. Woodruff is a hard-partying good ol’ boy who loves drinking, drugs and the ladies. A work injury and the resulting hospital stay, complete with tests, finds Ron unexpectedly saddled with the news that he is H.I.V. -positive and has 30 days left to live, according to the doctors.
Ron is not one to accept a death sentence. No sir, as he declares “News flash. There ain’t nothing out there that can kill Ron Woodroof in thirty days.” Determined to find the best treatment available and fight for his survival, Ron pursues alternative options available in Mexico and begins smuggling them into the United States. At first Ron is out purely for his own survival, but when it occurs to him that others are quite as desperate for these medicines and supplements as he is, Ron determines that he should make them available for sale. In this endeavor he meets an unlikely ally in the form of Rayon, (Jared Leto) a fellow AIDS patient with a mind for business, a passion for life and a much stronger connection to the gay community than Ron could ever hope to have.
As he is dealing with non-approved substances, Ron’s approach causes an uproar in the medical and scientific communities and ruffles more than a few feathers in various government entities. Undeterred, Ron keeps working to spread the word with Rayon and a rapidly growing collection of friends and clients. What follows is a story of survival and the struggle for acceptance, education and dignity.
“Dallas Buyers Club” is an impactful and incredible story, but more than what transpires on screen, the film is marked by a collection of exceptional performances. Jennifer Garner is at her best as the concerned physician overseeing Ron and Rayon’s cases, though as fine as her turn is, she is overshadowed by Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto, who both deliver positively powerhouse performances. Both McConaughey and Leto made stunning transformations for their roles, but as impressive as the physical dedication is, without their ability to emote and disappear into the characters they crafted, the physical effort would have been for naught. Both men turn in the performances of their respective careers, and fortunately for us, share a significant amount of screentime, during which they play off of one another spectacularly. There is no romance between Rayon and Ron, but their relationship and the ways in which it changes them both is undoubtedly the heart and soul of the film.
“Dallas Buyers Club” handily stakes its claim as one of the year’s best on the strength of the performances that result in an incredible story told incredibly well.