Since his arrival 20 years ago as part of the crowded cast of Dazed and Confused, Matthew McConaughey has made a decent living - veering between heroic leads in hefty films and winking cads in lightweight comedies. McConaughey gold-plates his status as a top-tier actor in Dallas Buyers Club, a fact-based drama set in the mid-1980s, during the early terror of the AIDS epidemic.
Since his arrival 20 years ago as part of the crowded cast of Dazed and Confused, Matthew McConaughey has made a decent living veering between heroic leads in hefty films and winking cads in lightweight comedies.
With steady conviction, though, the actor has quietly assembled a run of polished performances in Killer Joe (2012), Magic Mike (2012) and Mud (2013).
McConaughey gold-plates his status as a top-tier actor in Dallas Buyers Club, a fact-based drama set in the mid-1980s, during the early terror of the AIDS epidemic.
He plays Ron Woodroof, a strutting Texas hell-raiser who rides bulls, beds women, snorts cocaine and starts a fight at the drop of an insult. For added color, the raging homophobe has a worldview narrower than his beat-up trailer.
His simple world takes a dark turn when a work-site accident lands him in a hospital, where, after running tests, doctors announce that Ron has AIDS and little more than a month to live.
Naturally, he dismisses the diagnosis until he remembers a casual bout of unprotected sex. He illegally buys quantities of the drug AZT, still under clinical testing by the Food and Drug Administration. After he discovers that a side effect of the drug involves a further weakening of the immune system, he finds a doctor in Mexico who concocts a combination of drugs and vitamins that keeps Ron alive.
With little expectation of early FDA approval, Ron sets up a black-market business, supplying fellow AIDS patients with the medicines they need for a fat fee.
The film from Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallee (The Young Victoria) develops into a profane war between an unlikely crusader and the powers of government and industry that are in no hurry to give relief to those already sentenced to death.
McConaughey keeps the film grounded by focusing it on an unlikable lout who passes through alienation, panic and desperation into cleareyed purpose. Almost skeletal after shedding a few dozen pounds for the role, the actor blends his trademark swagger with a gradual enlightenment that is neither miraculous nor sentimental.
Close behind is Jared Leto as Rayon, a gentle cross-dresser who forms a business arrangement with Ron that evolves into perhaps the closest thing to a meaningful relationship in either of their lives.
I cant vouch for the accuracy of the details; the movie poster bears the evasive disclaimer inspired by true events. But the result, thanks to the lead actor, is an absorbing portrait of a dissolute dog transformed by a bad break into a good man.