SCREEN TEST: Leto (left) and McConaughey give two of the year's most high-calibre performances.
Starring in The Dallas Buyers' Club, Matthew McConaughey subjects himself to incredible weight loss and assumes a spot-on Texan accent to embody Ron Woodroof, a rodeo gambler whose freewheeling lifestyle of booze and casual sex is brought to a screeching halt when he is diagnosed with HIV and given 30 days to live. (His T-cell count has dipped below 10.)
It's the 1980s, and the FDA has imposed strict restrictions on pharmaceutical drugs. But being a man who never shies from going his own way, Woodroof hits the road tracking down alternative treatments and establishing a buyers club that earns him the ire of the authorities but brings colourful new folks into his life, including Jennifer Garner's good-natured Dr. Eve Saks and the film's most sympathetic character in HIV-and-drug-addles transvestite Rayon, played to amusing perfection by Jared Leto.
Shining the spotlight on the weighty themes of activism, addiction, homophobia and the scourge of the AIDS pandemic, director Jean-Marc Vallée reels in his audience with scenes that cut deep to the bone while steeped in incisive dialogue and harsh realities that bear striking resonance for today's modern world. Above all, though, it's McConaughey (this year's shoo-in for Best Actor) who gives the movie it's riveting centre, portraying a man who finds purpose and a new lease on life under the grimmest of circumstances and fights for a cause very initially believed in. He shares a winsome chemistry with Leto, who deftly conveys Rayon's sweet mix of sass and vulnerability.
Thought-provoking and deeply affecting but absolutely essential viewing, The Dallas Buyers' Club squarely puts the focus on a vicious disease and the never-ending fight to mitigate its harmful effects on human life, even as it elucidates an arresting portrait of a man on a life-and-death mission. Tyrone's Verdict: A-