Dallas Buyers Club ★★½

I've never seen a better or less showy performance by Matthew McConaughey as Ron Woodruff, a homophobic rodeo electrician who contracts HIV from unprotected sex with an IV-drug-using prostitute and ends up becoming a kind of treatment activist. (One of the film's insights I appreciated is a reminder that all treatment activists were necessarily self-interested.) A great deal of the sense of authenticity in the character must of course come from McConaughey's startling physical transformation that has already happened before the narrative begins, both in the character's life and in the actor's but also in the PR leading up to Oscar buzz. Jared Leto is no less impressive as Rayon, Woodruff's cross-dressing HIV-positive partner — business partner, as Woodruff stresses at one point — and director Jean-Marc Vallée is pretty savvy to feature the bodies of these two straight Hollywood men in the ways that he does, otherwise I guess a mainstream audience would find it hard to focus. Other than Rayon's boyfriend, everyone else seems pretty healthy, so there's no real sense of communal emergency here, which is how I remember that time period. No matter how many times Woodruff shouts, People are dying!, only his own oncoming death matters very much. Leto's Rayon is around primarily so that his death can affect Woodruff. ACT UP gets a sidenote via a news broadcast covering the protest at the FDA during which nearly 200 people were arrested for civil disobedience but is referred to only as "activists." Jennifer Garner, as the mostly superfluous Dr. Eva Saks, hears that, sighs and switches off the TV.

So while I'm glad this movie talks about a time period that most people, even most gay men, have forgotten, it's still too bad that this kinda dry vehicle will get seen more than any of the worthy documentaries about the response to the AIDS crisis, such as Voices from the Front, How To Survive a Plague, We Were Here and United in Anger.

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