Dallas Buyers Club serves as the latest yellow brick on the road to career redemption for Matthew McConaughey. Remember the silly rom-coms with Kate Hudson (How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days), Jennifer Lopez (The Wedding Planner) and Jennifer Garner (Ghosts of Girlfriends Past)? At his worst, he always slipped in a shiny distraction (Frailty and Lone Star) to remind us that he had something good and true lurking within him. The new McConaughey narrative began in earnest in 2011 with The Lincoln Lawyer and peaked with his smarmy charm offensive in Magic Mike, which felt like Denzel Washington’s twist on his usual righteous fire in Training Day.
In Dallas Buyers Club, as the hard-living (and hard-loving) Ron Woodroof, a 1980s rodeo cowboy on the circuit hustling his life away until he gets diagnosed with HIV, which explodes into full-blown AIDS and a death sentence in 30 days without the proper meds, McConaughey is little more than animated skin and bones, but it’s obvious that he’s not ready to go quietly into the night. Woodroof has a heart of gold and shrewd business sense to match. Before long, the money doesn’t matter as much as the good he does for others, like Rayon (Jared Leto), his transgendered ER roommate who becomes his partner in the meds club scheme. Rayon challenges Woodroof, the staunch heterosexual homophobe, to own up to the questionable lifestyle choices he made in his past. Rayon has no such qualms, living out loud with pride and style. There is no small bit of flamboyance in Rayon, but Leto never reduces the character to sass and tics. Instead he finds character in this character and, together, McConaughey and Leto end up elevating a relatively pedestrian biopic. In lesser hands, Dallas Buyers Club from director Jean-Marc Vallée (The Young Victoria) would struggle to fill the small screen. But these two performers, working at the top of their games, will convince audiences to ante up big. (R) Grade: B+