The Oscar buzz has faded since last week. The red carpet’s been rolled up, and the paparazzi have moved on to other targets, but that fact doesn’t diminish that craving to see the big winners and determine how they really measure up. Thanks to instant streaming and local rental options, having to wait six months after the first release is a thing of the past.
If you’re not careful, you’ll fall into that comfortable place of binge viewing. It’s quite possible, for a nominal fee, to see five award winners in a single day as long as you keep pushing that Amazon click-it button.
Whether you opt for the five-pack or a single movie, “Dallas Buyers Club” has earned a place in the line-up. Matthew McConaughey gives everything he has to the depiction of Ron Woodroof, a hard-drinking, cowboy from Dallas who lived life on the edge. For starters, he lost forty pounds to look and move more like the real Woodroof. Critics are calling this film a turning point in McConaughey’s acting career and the role of a lifetime. His taking home the award for Best Actor substantiates those claims.
Set in 1985, “Dallas Buyers Club” tells Woodroof’s gritty story, and it’s not pretty. Some scenes are hard to watch. Woodroof took no prisoners and didn’t suffer fools. On the cowboy circuit, he ran through bottles of booze and loose women. His rough job as an oil rigger electrician financed his bad habits, and he spent his life looking for good times and high thrills. It was a dangerous cocktail of sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll.
Then the bad news comes. Woodroof discovers he’s HIV positive at the height of the AIDS epidemic with more misconceptions in the air than hard facts. Woodruff’s life starts to unravel. Oil-field friends can’t stomach the association with HIV and being gay, and out of necessity Woodroof has to deal with a few of his own homophobic tendencies in his quest to beat the disease. His closest ally is Rayon (Jared Leto), a transgendered cross-dresser, whom Woodroof will ultimately come to respect. Their relationship is a study in the evolution of Woodroof’s humanity.
Woodroof channels all of his former wasted energy into staying alive. Unsatisfied with Dr. Eve’s (Jennifer Garner) approach and dosage of the experimental drug AZT, he sets out on his own journey to save himself. Woodroof’s frenzy results in his founding of the Dallas Buyers Club, a means for smuggling untested vitamins and drugs into the country from all over the world. As kingpin of the enterprise, Woodroof finances his own treatment, giving hope and medicine to anybody who can afford the $400 price tag. At first, Woodroof isn’t out to save the world, but he later comes to understand his place in it.
McConaughey spent time with Woodroof’s family and had access to his personal diary. His transformative portray of Woodroof is a fitting memorial to this uncomplicated man living during conflicting, complicated times.
Rated R for pervasive language, some strong sexual content, nudity, and drug use.
Marilyn Robitaille has been writing film reviews for the Empire-Tribune since 1999.