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Cinema Signal: Exceptional character acting. Green for Go! MOBILE version |
. "Dallas Buyers Glub"

First off... This film represents a major transition for an actor who has thrived in the ego-centric, highly commercialized pop movie market in which he generally shows off his superb muscle tone with super-confident characters driven by ambition and arrogance ("Magic Mike," "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past"). But something happened to him in 2013. It will go down in the movie history books that this was the year Matthew McConaughey discovered his potential.

Off a turn as a fugitive evading bounty hunters in order to see his true love in "Mud," a portrayal that produced considerable Oscar buzz in the Supporting Actor category, he here takes on an even more demanding role as Texas electrician Ron Woodroof, a wild partying rodeo cowboy whose idea of a good time includes alcohol and women. He's also a straight homophobic drug addict who contracts HIV in 1986 and goes through the agony of becoming the object of the homophobic denigration he's been spewing out, as well as facing his mortality.

Given 30 days to live by his testy doctor (Denis O'Hare), he procures AZT when it was under trials by the FDA and not yet proven safe. Because different people respond differently to medications, (or because of non-supervised dosages) it nearly kills him and he winds up on a hospital ward.

There, he develops a relationship with much more empathetic doctor, Eve Saks (Jennifer Garner, "The Odd Life of Timothy Green"), and transgender roommate Rayon (Jared Leto, "Mr. Nobody"), who considers Ron one of his own. This relationship goes from uncertain to mercurial and leads to a key moment when Ron, acting against all the principles of his former life as a full-fledged bigot against gay people, defends Ray against the attacks of a one-time buddy who has rejected him.

This is a pivotal scene. It's the confirmation of Ron's transition to who he is today rather than who he once was, and it ends with the stunning realization by Rayon that someone like Ron has stood up for him. He's stunned, and his expression is unforgettable. Leto hasn't been making movies lately, but he certainly shows here that he's a contender.

When Ron's health improves, he seeks to make AZT and other unproven drug cocktails available to other victims of the disease who are eager to try anything. Employing various stragems, he smuggles stocks of drugs across the border and, with Ray as his partner, sets up an outlet named the "Dallas Buyers Club" with a unique business model that befuddles, if not avoids, the developing laws around the sale of unapproved treatments. By now, he has come to the attention of agent Richard Barkley (Michael O'Neill). But, so long as Ron's "club" can skirt the law, he has a thriving income.

Agent Barkley, representing The Legal and Medical Establishment, eventually digs his heels into the illegal operation and the cost of defense puts Ron's business in jeapordy.

This is not just a characterization of a man going through a transition to an issue of mortality, but it's also a transformative performance by an actor rising in depth, In more ways than one. McConaughey's a wisp of his former self, having reduced his size by many pounds in a successful attempt to look like an AIDS/HIV victim -- thin but not quite skeletal, nor incapable of physical gusto and rage. We haven't seen this kind of sacrifice for a role since Christian Bale's emaciation for "The Machinist" in 2004.

In order to tell the story of the epidemic when it hit the population like a ton of lead, characters are condensations of communities, such as the legal, the medical, the victims, etc., and it may come off as too much "shortcutting" by some viewers. But, screenwriters Craig Borten and Melisa Wallacks's fine development of a Dallas Morning News article about the crisis in 1992, Jean-Marc Vallee's ("The Young Victoria") direction and McConaughey's vivid, hot-wired characterization cover the creative bases for a homer. Maybe not out of the park, but a serious hit.

Now we'll see if McConaughey shows up at the Oscars... or, if he takes the stage. Same goes in the Best Supporting Actor division for Leto!

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                                              ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Jared Leto as transgender Rayon with Matthew McConaughey as Ron Woodroof.
Partners in the club.

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