This review originally appeared on Lawrence.com.
During the fall Oscar-wannabe season, the movies that are “based on a true story” come out in full force. Many of them will no doubt play fast and loose with the facts, while others will adhere so closely to what happened that their cinematic versions will come off stilted and lifeless. Dallas Buyers Club is a good example of a film that finds a nice balance between truth and fiction and benefits greatly from an impassioned lead performance.
Matthew McConaughey is riveting as Ron Woodroof, a hard-partying, homophobic Texas electrician and rodeo enthusiast who contracted AIDS in 1985 and is given a month to live. Instead of rolling over, Woodroof stokes his own gambling urges and becomes energized by an outlaw capitalistic endeavor — smuggling experimental HIV drugs from Mexico and Japan and selling them to other patients looking to prolong their lives.
McConaughey is a wonder. The actor lost 50 pounds to play the tightly coiled antihero, and he gives Woodruff a determination that’s practically unhinged. There isn’t a lot of time for self-reflection, but a couple of key scenes in the movie are a window to the real man behind the hulking confidence. McConaughey’s nonstop energy and his character’s will to survive carries the film, even in its most conventional moments.
Woodruff is a hero in the same vein of Oskar Schindler — someone who ends up helping others by looking out for his own skin. Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, Dallas Buyers Club has attitude to spare, pulling few punches in its portrayal of the foul-mouthed Woodroof and its indictment of the FDA as a corrupt organization beholden to corporate interests.
Although the screenplay by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack becomes a bit aimless toward the end and suffers from some familiar sentimental trappings, the movie is also energized by solid supporting turns from Jared Leto and Jennifer Garner. McConaughey and Leto (as his unlikely transgender business partner) have prickly comic rapport and an unspoken tenderness, while Garner’s doctor wrestles effectively with the ineffectiveness of the patient care she’s allowed to give and her knowledge of Woodroof’s illegal drug business.
This is just one story of many during the initial AIDS crisis, so it doesn’t try to represent anything else, but it does allude to a larger canvas. For a detailed account of the Reagan administration’s slow reaction and the gay community’s fierce crusade for a cure, rent the superb 2012 documentary How to Survive a Plague.
McConaughey is a wonder in Dallas Buyers Club. The actor lost 50 pounds to play the tightly-coiled anti-hero and he gives Woodruff a determination that’s practically unhinged. There isn’t a lot of time for self-reflection, but a couple of key scenes in the movie are a window to the real man behind the hulking confidence. McConaughey’s nonstop energy and his character’s will to survive carries the film, even in its most conventional moments.