Matthew McConaughey doesn’t get enough credit. Yes, he’s done his share of stinkers like Sahara, but he’s also done gems like A Time to Kill and Contact. Over the last few years, McConaughey has refocused himself and delivered a string of complex performances in The Lincoln Lawyer, Bernie, Magic Mike, and Mud. His acting in Dallas Buyers Club is the apex of his career so far.
Set in 1985, when misinformation about AIDS polluted the national conversation and most associated it purely with gay people, Dallas Buyers Club centres on a volatile, vulgar, homophobic Texan named Ron Woodruff (McConaughey) who is diagnosed with HIV and given 30 days to live.
Woodruff finds experimental drugs in Mexico that help him but that aren’t approved by the FDA in America, which he begins smuggling over the border. He reluctantly teams up with Rayon (Leto), a transgender drug addict he meets in the hospital, to help him distribute the medicine to AIDS sufferers.
To get around the legal restrictions of selling unapproved drugs in the US, Woodruff charges people $400 a month to join the Dallas Buyers Club, which gives them unlimited access to all of his drugs. His ensuing and escalating battle with the FDA and the US Government echoes his battle with AIDS; both last far longer than anyone expected, but the outcome to both is ultimately inevitable.
McConaughey shed nearly 50 pounds to play Woodruff and he learned to carry his gaunt body completely differently. He’s given great performances before, but nothing before was even in the same league as his work here.
Leto is also absolutely brilliant. He stayed in character for 25 days of filming and he completely disappears in Rayon. Whether you know Leto from My So-Called Life, Requiem for a Dream, Panic Room, or the band Thirty Seconds to Mars, there’s virtually no recognizing him in Rayon, even when all the makeup and outfits are stripped away.
Dallas Buyers Club tells a similar story as Philadelphia, but it does much more with its true story. The characters are complex, the performances are powerful, and the story is both inspiring and haunting. Ron Woodruff and Rayon are one of the most unusual pairings this year, but they’re also one of the most fascinating.