The Big Screen

Vaughn: McConaughey delivers nuanced performance in “Dallas Buyers Club”

kvz.vaughn@gmail.comFebruary 7, 2014 

It’s nearly impossible not to start this review off by noting the truly astonishing turn that Matthew McConaughey’s career has taken in just three short years. Beginning with 2011’s “The Lincoln Lawyer,” he has nearly wiped clean his flat, pretty boy image with engrossing performances in “Bernie,” “Killer Joe,” “Mud,” “Magic Mike” and “The Wolf of Wall Street.” But it is “Dallas Buyers Club” that will truly typify his evolution in front of the screen.

In “Dallas,” McConaughey is barely recognizable as Ron Woodruff, a Texan man who doesn’t come short of unsavory descriptors. He’s a bigot, a womanizer, a drug addict, an alcoholic and a gambler. He lives paycheck to paycheck, ripping off friends and drinking himself into oblivion. Then, at the height of the AIDS crisis, he contracts HIV from any number of the women he has had unprotected sex with. The doctor gives him thirty days to live and the option of spending them hopped up on morphine in the hospital.

Instead, Woodruff begins buying an experimental drug called AZT from a shady hospital orderly. When that supplies runs out he heads south to Mexico to buy alternative medicines that are yielding positive results but lack FDA approval in the United States. In it he sees a business opportunity. Through a legal loophole, he begins selling drugs under the guise of a private club with a hefty membership fee. What begins as a fight to take charge of his own treatment morphs into a cause for fair and humane treatment, and Woodruff’s attitude towards the people he once despised slowly begins to soften and evolve.

But what is most notable about the script is that it never hits on emotional cliché. There is no message, no underhanded transformation of a once ignorant man. The change in Woodruff is nuanced and subtle, and McConaughey does a phenomenal job of making a despicable man oddly charming. His interactions with his business partner, a transgendered man named Rayon (Jared Leto), are touching without being overreaching.

Leto also delivers a spectacular performance. He is at once gentle, flirtatious, sad and bruised. Behind the heavily layered façade of makeup is a human with a heartbreaking history and Leto is able to convey that vulnerability to perfection.

Both McConaughey and Leto are slated to take home Oscars this year (I would personally choose Chiwetel Eljifor for “12 Years a Slave” and Jonah Hill for “The Wolf of Wall Street”), and their performances alone are enough to deserve a viewing.

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