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"Dallas Buyers Club": When the Illegal Drugs Are Medicine 

Wednesday, Nov 6 2013
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Having lost 40 pounds to embody AIDS activist Ron Woodroof, Matthew McConaughey may resemble a shadow of his former self in Dallas Buyers Club, but his outsized charisma — here colored with subtle vulnerability — is nonetheless the spark that enlivens this tale of unlikely rebellion. Jean-Marc Vallée's film commences in 1986 with redneck electrician-cum-hustler Woodruff screwing anonymous women at a Texas bull-riding event while one of the competitors dies — ominous foreshadowing for the subsequent revelation that Woodroof's promiscuity has left him with full-blown AIDS and, according to a doctor (Denis O'Hare), only 30 days to live. That diagnosis is met with resistance by Woodroof, who with the aid of transsexual Rayon (Jared Leto) combats the medical establishment (and its promotion of the drug AZT) by establishing a buyer's club where members are given access to medicine Woodroof imports from Mexico and overseas. Also charting Woodroof's waning homophobia, burgeoning relationship with a sympathetic doc (Jennifer Garner), and mounting conflict with the FDA, the film occasionally feels overstuffed with incidents that have been dramatized in dull black-and-white terms. Vallée compensates for that shortcoming by embellishing the action with quick-insert snapshots of quiet moments that lend necessary depth to his cast's characterizations. Ultimately, however, Dallas Buyers Club is McConaughey's show. Gaunt to the point of sickliness, the actor wields his trademark Southern-devil charm as both a weapon and as armor, all while layering his charismatic bluster with an anger that lends poignant weight to his portrait of Woodroof's fight for life and, in the process, for his — as well as other AIDS sufferers' — basic human dignity.

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Nick Schager

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