City Paper grade: B+
In the most miraculous career resurrection not precipitated by Quentin Tarantino, Matthew McConaughey has abruptly transformed himself from half-forgotten shirtless rom-com himbo to an expertly sleazy, electrifying screen presence. I’m not sure how it happened, either, but if you look at his remarkable two-year run — The Lincoln Lawyer, Bernie, Magic Mike, Killer Joe, The Paperboy, Mud and now Dallas Buyers Club — what comes through strongest is that Matthew McConaughey now really loves being Matthew McConaughey.
These days, he’s exuding an infectiously naughty sense of self-delight, one that serves him well in director Jean-Marc Vallee’s somewhat schematic, tad-too-crowd-pleasing take on the early days of the AIDS crisis. McConaughey, starved to an alarming fraction of his body weight, stars as Ron Woodruff, a hard-partying, good-ole-boy rodeo fixture diagnosed with HIV and given 30 days to live. Never one to follow protocol, Ron starts out buying stolen AZT from crooked hospital orderlies in parking lots, and eventually ends up smuggling unapproved drugs across all sorts of borders in a variety of silly costumes as part of a rather ingenious entrepreneurial gambit.
Scamming his way around the FDA, turning a quick buck and staying alive in the process, Woodruff gamed a broken system for as long as he could. Yes, this subject was covered in much greater depth in last year’s essential documentary How to Survive a Plague — and of course, when Hollywood told the story, they had to pick the time it happened to a straight guy — but Dallas Buyers Club still knows how to work a crowd.
Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack’s screenplay follows the template of every Bill Murray slobs-vs.-snobs comedy from the ’80s, except this time people are dying. More nuanced is McConaughey’s business partnership with a drag queen named Rayon (Jared Leto, yep — Jordan Catalano in a dress). Ron’s redneck homophobe prejudices gradually melt away for expediency’s sake, but nobody ever makes a big deal out of that.
Dallas Buyers Club is sometimes terribly overwritten, yet always admirably underplayed. And McConaughey is just heroic.
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