December 6, 2022
Ithaca, NY | 40°F


Review: McConaughey’s acting proves infectious

Dallas Buyers Club

Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée

While predicting potential Oscar winners, look no further than the lead actors in the real-life story of the “Dallas Buyers Club.” Starring a gaunt and nearly unrecognizable Matthew McConaughey as drunk, drug-addicted redneck Ron Woodroof, this movie narrates the struggle of Americans diagnosed with AIDS in 1985.

Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, “Dallas Buyers Club” follows Woodroof as he learns he has HIV and a month to live. After the hospital refuses to give him a drug called AZT, because it isn’t yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration, he researches other drugs that may help him. Woodroof then goes to Mexico to buy different illegal drugs he believes will keep him alive, and smuggles them back into the U.S. to use and sell to others infected with AIDS. The movie progresses by flashing the number of days since Woodroof’s diagnosis on screen, leaving the viewer to wonder on what number his life will end. Along the way, he meets Rayon (Jared Leto), a cross-dressing gay man with AIDS, who joins Woodroof in using and selling the drugs through a membership known as a “buyers club.”

The role is a departure from the norm for McConaughey. After losing 50 pounds for this role, McConaughey is a far cry from the hunky, leading man he usually plays in other films. He is abrasive and homophobic, and his sentences are littered with curses. Even though Rayon is his business partner, Woodroof cannot be bothered to show any respect toward the cross-dressing man at the beginning, but by the end of the film they become friends. But McConaughey plays Woodroof’s transformation with vulnerability and skill. In the early scenes, he delivers his lines with heartbreaking desperation and fear.

What makes McConaughey’s performance even more impressive is he never portrays Woodroof as a savior or as the “good guy.” He is never likeable. He has moments of sympathy and growth, but McConaughey plays his role with a constant swagger that makes his character both obnoxious and endearing.

Leto is a revelation as Rayon. The Thirty Seconds to Mars frontman’s transformation is frightening. He is skeletal and has no eyebrows, wearing torn clothes and excessive makeup, a stark contrast from his usually handsome and long-haired appearance. Every line is filled with emotion, especially in a particularly poignant scene where Rayon visits his father (James DuMont). He and McConaughey feed off each other in their scenes together; they convey as much emotion in a look as they do in their sarcastic banters. Both actors completely become their characters, and it shows through their facial expressions, especially as Woodroof becomes more accepting of Rayon.

While the movie’s ending is abrupt and unsatisfactory, the rest of this film masterfully tells a story with no hero. McConaughey and Leto’s performances are fearless — when Oscar nominees are announced, expect to hear their names.