BY MAX ASAYESH-BROWN
St. Petersburg High
If a year ago you had asked me about Matthew McConaughey's career-best performance, I'd have been inclined to give it to the buffoonish Hollywood agent in Tropic Thunder who saves his film crew of misfits from Vietnamese militants as he hurls the coveted TiVo set at an oncoming missile. Now, with Dallas Buyers Club (and perhaps with the promise he shows in December's The Wolf of Wall Street), I'm convinced "career-best" is an inadequate superlative.
From the beginning, McConaughey gives you no choice but to take him more seriously than ever before. He tells the true story of Ron Woodroof, classic Texan racist, homophobe and electrician. The less complicated half of his life centers on rodeo, gambling, prostitutes and cocaine — the finer things. Yet, Woodroof is shocked to find himself diagnosed with HIV and given a 30-day expiration date.
Convinced ain't nothing out there can kill Ron Woodroof in 30 days, he negotiates an under-the-table deal with a hospital employee to acquire AZT, an HIV medication in the experimental stage with a controversially small sphere of treatment (50 percent of subjects are given AZT against a control group of 50 percent given sugar pills). As the FDA makes more enemies not only with lies regarding the effectiveness of AZT but also its limited application, Woodroof goes into business trafficking unapproved, experimental south-of-the-border treatments into Dallas, selling $400 monthly memberships for a bottomless supply.
The buyers club grows, as does Woodroof, gradually parting with old racist, homophobic and self-destructive habits. He partners with transvestite Rayon, an absolutely superior Jared Leto, and shops organic. Moreover, he gets himself into a mess of trouble, which produces tremendous emotional value for his character — the club is lucrative, but it becomes evident that Woodroof is doing a service to those most let down by the public health system.
Pun completely intended, the slender and wan Matthew McConaughey electrifies as Ron Woodroof in this year's best performance, followed closely by Leto. But this is not to say that the film thrives on its acting alone — Melissa Wallack and Craig Borten deliver a script that's both poignant and provocative, brimming with sophistication and surprisingly charming dialogue.
Jennifer Garner, Woodroof's sympathetic but helpless doctor, brings more to the table. All things considered her role is minimal and gets off to a slow start, yet Garner elegantly makes lemonade that sweetens with her co-stars' performances, resulting in an emotional attachment the audience can't fight.
Dallas Buyers Club is a serious award magnet, with some of the year's best performances and a story that's effectively linear and plentiful in heart. If it wasn't enough that McConaughey dropped about 50 pounds to prove his commitment, you can watch the film with the knowledge that the real Ron Woodroof lasted seven years before succumbing to his disease. This is a performance that genuinely communicates the triumph, swagger, confidence and spirit of a man with an extraordinary will to live.