‘Dallas Buyers Club’ is a worthwhile investment

Matthew McConaughey stars in "Dallas Buyers Club."
December 8, 2013

Man, it’s good to see Matthew McConaughey making a McComeback to the form and strength he once demonstrated but has since sidelined to enjoy paycheck roles to apparently fund surfing trips and bankroll his clothing line.

After what seemed like years of interchangeable romantic “comedies” (one of which brought the shirtless wonder to Lewes for a spell), he has risen back to the level of his ability earlier this year with the hit “Magic Mike,” the little-seen (but not-to-be-missed) “Mud,” and next month in Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street.” And despite the fantastic performances in the former two films and the supporting role in the latter, it’s “Dallas Buyers Club” that elevates the actor in an already-crowded best-actor awards race.

He commits so fully to his character that it’s difficult at times to realize it’s truly him within that scrawny frame. Physical transformation aside, McConaughey makes Ron Woodroof such a lecherous, egocentric anti-hero that his gradual transformation into a less-lecherous, egocentric anti-hero seems all the more real.

Woodroof is a libidinous, drug- and liquor-loving cowboy whose carefree lifestyle catches up to him during the mid-‘80s when a doctor’s visit reveals that he’s HIV-positive and has about a month to live. He greets the news with denial: He’s not gay. In fact, he’s a card-carrying homophobe. He takes the death sentence as a challenge and embarks on a journey that leads him to places such as Mexico and Japan in search of medications that have yet to pass through the FDA’s slow-moving approval process.

His quest makes him somewhat of a hero within the gay community, despite his despicable attitude toward homosexuality. But director Jean-Marc Vallee plays down the hero worship, grounding it in a more plausible character study. He’s not a changed man by the film’s end, and the film leaves him with many miles left to travel down the road of redemption, but the fact that his change is so muted and casual largely helps the film remain grounded in reality. After all, most social change is not an overnight process, but one that takes place over long stretches of time.

And speaking of long stretches, “Dallas Buyers Club” feels as though it could have used a few more minutes in the editing booth to elevate it from a good film to a great one, but one cannot deny the performances within. His gaunt frame reminding us just how little time is left on his clock, McConaughey is merely steps away from his own mortality in every scene. His natural charisma can envelop a scene, but the sight of his bones jutting from his pasty frame helps us never lose focus on the stakes of the race he’s in. His performance is complemented by Jared Leto’s Rayon, a transsexual fellow AIDS sufferer who’s like a much-prettier Ratso Rizzo to McConaughey’s Midnight Cowboy. When the film begins to make a bolder statement on the power wielded by large pharmaceutical companies (as true as its criticisms may be), it sometimes betrays its own humble tale to tell. It feels much more comfortable when it’s left in McConaughey’s (and Leto’s) hands. For it is their “friendship” - anchored by McConaughey’s transformative portrayal - and their crusade to merely stay alive that makes the film a worthwhile investment.

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