Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014

McConaughey’s Dallas Breakthrough

By David Luhrssen
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Twenty-thirteen was Matthew McConaughey’s breakthrough year. He played an admirable assortment of roles, none as prominent as his star turn in Dallas Buyers Club. Odds are in his favor: he’ll take the trophy for Best Actor on Oscar night for his performance in that film.

Out on DVD and Blu-ray, Dallas Buyers Club is also a likely Oscar vehicle for Jared Leto’s supporting role as the glam rock transsexual with whom McConaughey’s Ron Woodroof reluctantly goes into the business of selling alternative medication for people dying of AIDS. The film is unlikely to win other honors: its second half more or less conforms to Hollywood conventions but the first half is like seeing a corner of the world through new eyes—thanks largely to McConaughey’s dynamic, fully realized portrayal of a rowdy Texas redneck who contracts HIV through profligate heterosexuality just as AIDS became recognized as an epidemic.

“I ain’t no faggot,” he insists, erupting angrily at his diagnosis. Given 30 days to live, the resourceful dude in the cowboy hat and aviator shades buys AZT on the sly, only to find the side effects almost as bad as the sickness and the suspicion that the drug, touted by the pharmaceutical industry, isn’t all it’s marketed to be.

In a flash of entrepreneurial inspiration, Woodroof smuggles European anti-AIDS drugs unapproved by the FDA and establishes a “buyers club” to evade the law. For a monthly fee, members have access to his inventory of foreign meds. The federal government is not amused. The dramatic structure of Dallas Buyers Club depends on contempt for big pharma and the physicians and government agencies the industry has co-opted, but the dramatic energy rushes from the gale force of McConaughey’s performance.

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