Matthew McConaughey’s emaciated frame haunts and informs just about every frame of Dallas Buyers Club, the “based on a true story” of Ron Woodroof, whose suffering from AIDS led him to become one of the biggest advocates for proper treatment of the disease.
As far as actors’ physical transformations for their roles go, what McConaughey has gone through to portray Woodroof is for the record books. The transformation is even more astounding keeping in mind that the role McConaughey performed just previous to this one was as a perfect male specimen on display in Magic Mike. Comparing these two wildly different performances is a great reminder of just how McConaughey is dedicated to his craft, which can get lost with movies like Fool’s Gold and Ghosts of Christmas Craft on his resume.
The film takes place in the late ’80s and early ’90s when AIDS was still new in our consciousness, but with the hindsight we have now, it’s easy to take one look at Woodroof from the first scene and know that he is ill with HIV. That first scene, by the way, is of Woodroof having anonymous unprotected sex in a rodeo stall. So, in addition to knowing that he is sick, we also immediately know Woodroof is not someone to be considered a thoughtful person.
His character is set up, though, in the now cliche Hollywood way unrepentant reprobates are presented to an audience, like Paul Newman in The Verdict. There’s enough glimmer in Woodroof’s early actions that we know he is about to go on the path of doing the right thing. Yes, he may spout a million homophobic slurs to random people he meets, but doggone it, when an illegal co-worker needs medical help, Woodroof is going to be the one who makes that happen.
In that, McConaughey transcends the film with his remarkably natural performance. We can see all the beats coming from a mile away, but the actor is so compelling we want to see him hit those beats with spunky aplomb to spare.
And it should be noted that Jared Leto makes a similarly remarkable transformation into the emaciated transvestite Rayon, who we all know will become Woodroof’s closest confident. However, Leto, while terrific and reminding us again of what a good actor he is, too, has to be a little more showy as a flamboyant eccentric and thus doesn’t quite get as lost in the part as his leading actor does.
Dallas Buyers Club is a loving and respectful biopic with an extremely remarkable performance by its lead actor really holding all the moving parts together.