Movie poster for Dallas Buyers Club starring Matthew Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner and Jared Leto
It’s hard to alter a first impression. And perhaps successfully doing so is an indicator of Jean-Marc Vallée talents as director of this biography based on AIDS-drug activist Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey).
It’s easy to hate him in the beginning. Depicted as an anti-gay, womanizing, drug-addicted fella who finds out he is HIV-positive after an accident on the job. Given 30 days to live, Woodroof is in denial and continues to live hard before a sudden change of heart that quickly leaves him friendless, jobless and homeless.
Keep in mind that this is 1985 at the start of the AIDS epidemic when there was still a lot of education to be had about the virus itself, who got it, and how. So in today’s more accepting society, Woodroof comes across as an easily unlikable character – which makes it more impressive when I realize halfway through that I actually don’t dislike him.
While much of the initial exposure of the film was on McConaughey’s startling transformation, where he dropped 50 lbs for the role, that attention quickly moved onward toward praise for his acting, which was gritty and at times intense, but always determined.
Likewise, Jared Leto underwent significant weight-loss as Rayon, a transgender woman also with HIV, who was the “business partner” of a reluctant Woodroof. Leto lost over 30 lbs and weighed as little as 114 lbs, which was more noticeable as the film progressed and we got to know more of Rayon through her struggles.
And Leto is every bit as impressive as McConaughey, who both have their own challenges as they act as each other’s sounding board throughout their peculiar relationship. There’s always a shoulder, albeit small, for whichever one is strongest and willing.
As with the physical transformations of the two leads, the film is a series of transformations that seep through the cracks of a disease deemed to be guaranteed death in a society that shunned anyone associated with it. Transformations that McConaughey grabs by the horn and directs it to where he demands it go.
Through it all, Dallas Buyers Club somehow finds a ray of light in an era layered with darkness for entire populations of people. Through the sea of dread is a sign of hope that rises to the surface and helps carry the film to success with excellence from McConaughey and Leto.