This isn’t exactly the story of Ron Woodroof, nor is it the story about the ghastly politics involved in the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. Still, "Dallas Buyers Club" rings true as a glimpse back at a time when desperate people took desperate measures to stay alive.
And the measures that star Matthew McConaughey took to portray the impassioned Woodroof are mind-boggling. It is among his finest performances (another of which, as the title character in "Mud," was on the big screen earlier this year).
Woodroof is depicted here as a foul-mouthed homophobe who has unprotected trysts and dabbles in all kinds of drugs. While he’s doing some electrical work, he is injured and treated at a hospital, where he is given some grave news: He is very, very ill. In fact, he has about 30 days to live.
He researches HIV and comes to grips with his medical diagnosis. But he’s determined to fight to stay alive, so he chooses some extraordinary means to buck not only the American pharmaceutical system but also what his doctors have advised him. Along the way, Woodroof learns a lot about himself and other people who are desperate to find help.
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I well remember when news about the virus came to light: It was almost like reading a science-fiction story as more information about the spread of the deadly disease and its death toll came to light: It seemed too awful to be true. That environment of fear is depicted quite well here. Also, the way society in general reacted to those diagnosed with HIV is mirrored in the reactions of people who one moment are Woodroof’s best friends and, literally hours later, react to his presence with fear and repulsion.
McConaughey’s physical transition from a tough cowboy to a critically ill man is astonishing and painful to watch. But his performance goes far beyond his physical transformation. He brings a rage to his character that continues to build as he begins to understand he is not alone in a community of thousands who will do anything to buy some more time.
Another terrific performance is turned in by Jared Leto ("Requiem for a Dream") as Rayon, a transvestite who needs Woodroof’s help and who, in turn, assists him. Jennifer Garner is on hand as a doctor who stands up to the health care establishment.
McConaughey is bound to win an Oscar nomination and even more respect as a serious actor with this role. It is not always easy to watch, but "Dallas Buyers Club" is always riveting.