Dallas Buyers Club Review
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Whenever an actor undergoes a significant physical transformation for a role, the award season buzz is sure to follow. Whenever stars agree to look fat or ugly or gaunt on screen, they get instant recognition. But the astonishing weight loss by the cast of Dallas Buyers Club isn’t the only thing about the film that’s noteworthy.

In Dallas Buyers Club, Matthew McConaughey stars as Ron Woodroof, a Texas electrician and rodeo ladies’ man who’s diagnosed as HIV-positive. As he struggles to come to grips with his illness, he begins researching his options—and his search leads him to a doctor in Mexico, whose alternative treatments appear to work wonders.

Ron sees this as the perfect opportunity to make a few bucks, so he begins smuggling boxes of non-FDA-approved medication back to Dallas and selling it to other AIDS patients. He then joins forces with a smart business partner—a fellow patient named Rayon (Jared Leto)—to form the Dallas Buyers Club, allowing paying members access to any of the drugs they need.

Dallas Buyers Club isn’t really a movie about AIDS. It’s not about doctors or drugs or the FDA, either. No, Dallas Buyers Club is about Ron Woodroof. And that makes for some challenging viewing—because Ron isn’t a likable character. He’s loud and obnoxious and extremely homophobic. He isn’t a selfless do-gooder who just wants to help others. He doesn’t run a charity, and he doesn’t really care about his fellow AIDS patients; he just wants to make a buck off their desperation. Along the way, though, he ends up caring about something bigger—something more important—than just himself. That’s not to say that he suddenly transforms into a sweet, selfless guy; he’s still an obnoxious jerk who’s fighting for his own survival. But, in doing so, he makes a difference for others, too.

In the process of creating this character-driven drama, however, the details of Ron’s story are kept in the background: the drug trials, the research, the battles with the FDA. And, as a result, the film feels somewhat hazy and detached. There’s a lot of interesting stuff going on here, but those parts of the story are never really solidified.

What makes the film, then, is the cast. McConaughey’s physical transformation is so alarming that it sometimes distracts from his performance—but, for better or for worse, he does a remarkable job of portraying the character’s strong and rather prickly personality. And, at the same time, he manages to turn this sleazy, homophobic, womanizing redneck into an almost charming outlaw.

Really, though, it’s Leto who steals the show. Rayon is the perfect partner for McConaughey’s Ron: sweet yet strong, thoughtful yet troubled, open and accepting. And while Ron tends to be a pretty one-note character, Rayon has depth and personality and heart. So although both performances are noteworthy, it’s Leto who truly gets the chance to shine—and he takes full advantage.

Ron Woodroof’s story is a fascinating one. It’s a story of survival, championed by an unlikely hero. And although the lack of details can be frustrating, the performances make it a notable addition to this year’s award season viewing.

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