The film that may finally win Matthew McConaughey an Oscar is released to DVD today. Dallas Buyers Club is more than a socially relevant biopic. It’s more than a character-driven glimpse at the grinding reality of the dawning AIDS crisis, even. Between McConaughey’s multidimensional performance as AIDS victim and unabashed Texan Ron Woodruff and Jared Leto’s brilliant, Oscar-frontrunning work as Woodruff’s partner in crime, literally and figuratively, the film offers the defining moments in two careers that are just hitting their strides.
For another of McConaughey’s more recent, brilliant but serious performances (as opposed to his recent, brilliant but insane performances), check out Mud. This Huck Finn style adventure is the follow up to the bewilderingly wonderful Take Shelter, both written and directed by the underseen filmmaker of extraordinary talent Jeff Nichols. McConaughey plays the titular Mud, a man-child fugitive who befriends a couple young river rats in search of adventure. The result is a lovely journey of lost innocence and a vanishing American lifestyle.
Aside from the very rare exception, Matthew McConaughey spent the first twenty years of his career proving to us that he looked nice without a shirt. Talent shmalent. Then suddenly, the king of the romantic comedy finally gave up his throne and began acting, and here’s the nutty thing: he’s damn good. Need proof? Read on, as we list the evidence.
10. Frailty (2001)
Spooky, languid, eerily observant, McConaughey’s performance in this underseen horror gem sets a great tone for the surprises in store.
9. The Paperboy (2012)
In a film this over-the-top, McConaughey anchors the insanity with an understated turn as a conflicted, good man.
8. Bernie (2011)
Jack Black is the reason to see this incredible film, but McConaughey’s turn as the baffled lawman and the film’s voice of reason is a winner as well.
7. Lone Star (1996)
Not yet Hollywood’s go-to for rom-com, McConaughey impressed everyone as Buddy Deeds, the legendary lawman-in-flashback in John Sayles’s Texan mystery.
6. Tropic Thunder (2008)
Here was our first reminder in more than a decade that McConaughey could act, not to mention poke fun at himself. With that insane hair and a little lip gloss, his Hollywood agent was the stuff of dreams. “Tivo!”
5. Dazed and Confused (1993)
No matter how much you hated Matthew McConaughey by, say, 2005, you had to admit that you loved him in his early-career turnin Dazed and Confused. That performance as Wooderson, the sleazy older dude still hitting on high school girls, was just about perfect.
4. Mud (2012)
By the time Mud came out, we’d grown used to the new and improved McConaughey, a flexible talent who still managed to put his own stamp on every new and fascinating role. Here he blends childlike wildness with wily survival instincts for a piece of beautiful storytelling.
3. Magic Mike (2012)
Yes, this movie blows, but it is so worth watching because of McConaughey’s positively unhinged and magnificent performance as the aging stripper-turned-entrepreneur.
2. Killer Joe (2011)
Holy shit. This movie – a kick-ass comeback for director William Friedkin – is so nuts, so dark, so Texan, that no one could possible shoulder the title role but McConaughey. Huge props to the entire balance of the cast, but just try to take your eyes off McConaughey.
1. Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
McConaughey may finally get the Oscar nomination he deserved at least twice in the last two years for his turn as the hard living Texan who finds himself victim of HIV and the medical industrial complex. A searingly human portrait, the performance is the best of what is becoming – at long last – a monster career.
It took the man almost 20 years in the business to find his real calling, but god damn, Matthew McConaughey knows how to create a character. And Ron Woodruff was nothing if not a character.
McConaughey plays the role of the real life AIDS victim and Texan in the compelling and surprisingly entertainingDallas Buyers Club.
Woodruff was a part-time bull rider, an occupation that almost defines him as fearless, determined, thrill-seeking, and probably not long for this world. He was man who “preferred to die with his boots on,” and he makes for an unlikely hero. After a lifetime of dangerous behavior on every level, Woodruff lands in the hospital with the news that he has HIV and a predicted 30 days to get his affairs in order.
Well, he saw that news as bullshit, and thanks to those defining characteristics, his subsequent journey makes for a singularly fascinating film.
A character-driven historical piece on the grinding reality of the dawning AIDS crisis, Dallas Buyers Club offers a glimpse at desperation, isolation, bigotry and resilience. Regardless of the facts, this is not the tragic story of a charismatic straight man struggling with AIDS. It’s the story of AIDS in Texas in 1985.
There is something formulaic, even predictable, about the film’s structure, and the screenplay speechifies here and there, but Jean-Marc Vallee’s understated direction and the performances of the entire ensemble buoy the effort above its “socially relevant biopic” label.
McConaughey’s charmingly assholish depiction is never less than compelling. He doesn’t make a saint of this man because there’s no saint to be made. What he makes him is human, an effort aided immeasurably by the supporting work of Jared Leto.
Leto plays Rayon, Woodruff’s reluctantly-accepted partner in a health care whirlwind. Their work together recalls the barbaric money grab at the heart of any attempt to cure those dying every day of AIDS. Quietly and with genuine tenderness, Leto’s performance reminds you that no one was defined by this disease alone.
Both actors are likely to be remembered come awards time, and some will point to Oscar’s preference for true stories and physical transformation. (Because of the weight lost for the roles, both McConaughey and Leto are almost unrecognizable.) Celebrating their superficial metamorphoses, though, limits their work. With the aid of a director’s steady hand and an ensemble’s quietly powerful work, they provide the heart and soul of an exceptional and surprisingly fresh true tale.