Ron Woodruff is the definition of a Texas redneck. An electrician by trade, he lives hard and loves hard. He overdoses on women, drugs, booze and anything else.
In 1985, he finds out he is HIV positive, and has 30 days to live. He fights to have a little more time, and winds up being one of the most unlikely AIDS activists.
This is the story behind Dallas Buyers Club, which may also be an excellent example of two actors making major commitments to create the best performances.
First off, look at how Matthew McConaughey had to change his leading man look to be Woodruff:
He not only lost 50 pounds, but all the baggage from being in lame romcoms Kate Hudson and Sarah Jessica Parker. True, he's also done good work in recent movies like Killer Joe and Mud, but nothing like this.
When Woodruff gets the news, he does what most people do: deny it through any means necessary. When it finally dawns on him of what has happened, and maybe when it happened, he reads what he can about drugs like AZT, the first drug the FDA approved for treatment despite serious side effects. He also hears about alternative methods and drugs that haven't gotten FDA approval, or even noticed. To be clear, he's partially doing it to benefit others, but it's really because of himself and earning cash. McConaughey does a great job making sure that Woodruff is no saint, but still willing to provide treatment options aside from AZT. This includes impersonating a priest and a researcher to get "unapproved" drugs from China, Japan and Mexico.
The performance most people will talk about is Jared Leto as Reyon. He's on an AZT trial program, but sells part of his dosage to help someone else...and for the money. Soon he and Ron create a unique way to distribute alternative drugs and try to keep one step ahead of the FDA. Most people remember Leto from My So Called Life and his band, 30 Seconds to Mars:
Seeing him as Reyon will stun a lot of people. He is someone you don't forget.
It's safe to say Leto's return to acting will get a lot of applause, and lead to a few awards after the New Year.
Jennifer Garner is also good as Eve Saks, who helps run one of the AZT trials for a hospital in Dallas, but slowly realizes that Ron's unorthodox ways may have its merits.
One reviewer said in a podcast that the FDA's heavy-handed way to stop Ron was a bit far-fetched. Then again, this was during the days of the War on Drugs. The battle may have included anyone who made the FDA look bad, so how the FDA agent is portrayed made sense.
Dallas Buyers Club is not only a great story about how a real redneck made sure AIDS patients got care that would keep them alive, but it's also a fine showcase of two great actors.
As I said in my review of 12 Years A Slave, the battle for Best Actor at the Academy Awards will be an endurance race. While Robert Redford will be the sentimental favorite for All Is Lost, McConaughey and Chiwetel Ejiofor cannot and should not be ignored. That's why I'm hoping it will be a split vote right through the Oscars next March. As for Leto, it looks like he'll be the 2014 version of Anne Hathaway, although McConaughey may give him a run for his money for his performance in Mud.