For a few years leading up to 2012's "Mud," Matthew McConaughey was going down the path laid by the likes of Johnny Depp: a road whose first miles were paved in good movies and good intentions, but which seems to inevitably lead to big budgets and worse decisions. Sure they have children, and cars, and entire islands to pay for just like the rest of us, but why not give a promising young director's career a boost and (God forbid) star in something that isn't just going to be franchised into Legos and video games and theme park rides?
I'm not saying that McConaughey cut his teeth on Shakespeare, but it's a long fall from "Amistad" to "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past."
I'd never been a huge Matthew McConaughey fan; if I thought of him at all it was as the goofy guy with the indeterminate Southern accent in all those romantic comedies or as the film-version of the heroes in the throw-away thrillers you see at the grocery store. Ironically it wouldn't be until his name was "Mud" that I started to see him as a legitimate actor, with actual chops, taking on real roles.
Pictured are Matthew McConaughey, right, as Rod Woodruff, and Jared Leto as Rayon in “Dallas Buyer’s Club.”?The film, set in the 1980s, explores the U.S. AIDS epidemic.
In "Dallas Buyer's Club" he plays Rod Woodruff, an alcoholic and tough-talking Texan who is equal parts electrician and bullrider, misogynist and womanizer. The true story is set in the second half of the 1980s when HIV and AIDS were both rampant and shrouded in myth and misconception. Primary among them was the idea that HIV and AIDS only threatened homosexual males.
When ladies' man Ron Woodruff is diagnosed with HIV and given a month to live, he doesn't just take it badly, he takes it as an affront against his sexuality.
The film follows Woodruff's days after his diagnosis - mostly spent procuring and doling out experimental and unapproved drugs while dodging the FDA. McConaughey's transforms the character - and himself, losing a terrifying 47 pounds for the role - as he comes to terms with the disease and the often detrimental and unethical ways it was then being treated.
He is just as believable as the belligerent homophobe with whom we start the movie as he is the very different man we last see before the credits role.
Jared Leto plays Rayon, a transgender AIDS victim and the dramatic foil to McConaughey's Woodruff. Despite the Academy Award nomination it would earn him for best supporting actor, Leto's performance didn't feel particularly memorable.
His role was presented rather one-dimensionally - AIDS, Boy George-fan, father hates him - and a character who could have been a very powerful part of the film sadly works against it. Leto's Rayon is more caricature than character.
Jennifer Garner is the only other "big name" in the film, and her transformation as a character and relationship with Woodruff are both crucial to the film, even if they do come across a bit flat. Yves Belanger's cinematography makes even 1980s Dallas, Texas, seem like a beautiful place and director Jean-Marc Vallee deserves every bit of the Academy Award (film editing) for which he's nominated. A strong offering in a year of otherwise ho-hum Best Picture candidates.
2 1/2 stars out of 4.
Rated R for pervasive language, some strong sexual content, nudity and drug use.