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‘Dallas Buyers Club’

by Kaori Shoji

Who would have thought Matthew McConaughey was capable of being despicable? The actor formerly mostly noted for turning in performances of unreliable but easy-on-the-eyes boyfriend material (“Contact,” “Wedding Planner,” “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past,” etc) could be about to bag his first Oscar with his portrayal of a totally unpleasant guy in “Dallas Buyers Club.”

To be fair, McConaughey has already torn his way out of the cocoon that sheltered him from the big bad world of playing hard and dirty. With his excellent performances over the last couple of years in unsavory roles in “Bernie,” “Magic Mike,” “The Paperboy” and “Mud,” he has reinvented himself into a man who, if you sat next to him on the subway, would inadvertently cause you to clutch your bag with both hands and secretly pray.

In “Dallas Buyers Club” he gives arguably his best and most powered performance yet, shedding over 20 kg to play Ron Woodroof, a real-life Texas electrician who was diagnosed with AIDS in 1985. As McConaughey presents him, Woodroof lives for booze, hookers and the rodeo. He’s the genuine Deep South bigot, with a raging case of homophobia. So it’s hard to sympathize when one day he has an accident at work and strides into the doctor’s office, only to be told that he is HIV positive with 30 days to live.

Dallas Buyers Club
Rating
Director Jean-Marc Vallée
Run Time 117 minutes
Language English

Woodroof’s initial reaction is furious denial, fueled by the acute embarrassment of having “a homo’s disease!” But the turnaround from that point doesn’t take too long. With so little time left, Woodroof realizes that cheesy as it seems, he had better make every minute count. He befriends a transgender person, Rayon (a superb Jared Leto), when they meet in a hospital. The relationship is icy at first but eventually they start a business together, and he defends her against machos just like himself.

Woodroof duly notes the irony of the fact that his cowboy hat-wearing, rodeo-loving buddies all act like they need a 10-foot pole just to say hello while Rayon offers generous compassion. But neither he nor director Jean-Marc Vallée dwell on that. Ultimately, they’re on a mission, with no time to waste on pettiness. Marveling at human resilience and spiritual will — that’s where they’d rather be.

The film makes some well-aimed jabs at the United States healthcare system, and how not much has changed since 1985 when it comes to providing helpful, immediate treatment. That said, Woodroof’s doctors, Eve (Jennifer Garner) and Dr. Sevard (Denis O’Hare), become inspired by the changes in this man who had thrown a tantrum and trashed the waiting room when they’d informed him of his condition. Later, Eve morphs into Woodroof’s true friend and ally, on board to support his endeavors until the end.

To describe this as life-affirming would not be the half of it. “Dallas Buyers Club” grabs life with both hands and gathers it in a tight, gorgeous hug.