"Dallas Buyers Club" is a career-changing film for Matthew McConaughey.
The 43-year-old actor, who was relegated to rom-coms and other roles where he could show off his chiseled chest (i.e. "Magic Mike"), flexes his acting muscles in the new drama, out Friday.
It's also a career-changer for Jared Leto, who's more known for being the frontman of 30 Seconds to Mars than his acting.
Both actors lost a large amount of weight to play H.I.V.-positive patients in the film. In one scene, McConaughey's hospital gown flies up to reveal his emaciated torso. But even more astonishing are their powerful performances.
"Dallas Buyers Club" is set in 1985, when AIDS is seen as a "gay disease" and treatments are still being developed. McConaughey plays Ron Woodruff, a womanizing, substance-abusing cowboy. During a trip to the hospital, doctors inform Ron that he has H.I.V. and only 30 days to live.
Instead of accepting the diagnosis as a death sentence, he invests the little time, money and energy he has left into learning about treatments. But he is alone; his friends have abandoned him, and the doctors can't get him drugs (AZT) as they're in trial stages.
With his health failing, Ron's days appeared numbered. So do his fellow patient Rayon's (Leto), a transvestite plagued with the same fate. But when Ron discovers alternative -- albeit FDA-unapproved -- treatments, his health and livelihood improve. Eventually, he begins a business to get these treatments to other H.I.V.-positive patients.
Make no mistake. Ron is a businessman, not a humanitarian. He partners with Rayon to build his clientele in the gay community, but those who can't afford to enroll in his "Dallas Buyers Club" go untreated ... and die. But as he sees inevitable result of the disease, he changes his homophobic ways. Their love-hate relationship becomes as necessary to each as the treatments.
McConaughey is the epitome of machismo, so to see him become so physically and emotionally vulnerable is surprising. Leto's performance reaches uncomfortable depths of despair. And the vehicle for these roles -- Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack's original screenplay based off interviews with the real-life Ron Woodruff -- educates intellectually and stimulates emotionally.
"Dallas Buyers Club" highlights a period in the AIDS crisis that has yet to be brought to the big screen, with performances that all people -- gay and straight -- should see.
5 out of 5 stars
-- Lawrence Yee