By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
A few days ago, Esquire magazine posted an article headlined “Matthew McConaughey Might Be the Greatest Actor of His Generation.”
The overstimulated author of the piece looked at the actor’s recent run of challenging roles and came up with the idea that McConaughey might be “an American Daniel Day-Lewis” based on his most recent performance in “Dallas Buyers Club.”
Well, let’s take a deep breath. Yes, McConaughey’s current streak is impressive, and movies such as “The Paperboy” and “Magic Mike” and “Bernie” show off different sides of his talent that have nothing to do with being a movie star and everything to do with being an actor. So give him credit for daring choices and for full-on commitment to his craft: For “Dallas Buyers Club,” he lost an alarming amount of weight to get his look right.
But memories of “Reign of Fire” and “Sahara” are enough to quash the Daniel Day-Lewis comparisons, at least for now. Nevertheless, “Dallas Buyers Club” could snag McConaughey his first Oscar nomination, and it wouldn’t be a bad call.
He plays Ron Woodroof, a real-life Texan whose story falls into a likable subgenre of movies: sagas of less-than-admirable people who fight admirable causes.
Shortly after we meet Ron, a womanizing, coke-snorting, homophobic electrician, he is diagnosed with AIDS. It’s 1985, and his doctors tell him he probably has a month to live.
Ron is also a rodeo rider, and he’s not about to let go of the bull without a fight. A natural-born con artist, he figures a way to import experimental drugs into Texas from Mexico, because the approved AIDS medication isn’t helping. First he wants to save himself, but then he realizes he can make money selling the better drugs to other Dallas HIV-positive patients.
The most effective thing about this setup is that Ron never reverts to white-knight status. Yes, he befriends the gay people he used to mock, and he goes into business partnership with a saucy transsexual (Jared Leto in a terrific performance), but he doesn’t lose his roguish manner.
It’s a strong dramatic situation, although the movie itself is somewhat messy. Director Jean-Marc Vallee (“Young Victoria”) tends to hit things right on the nose, and he can’t really find much material for Jennifer Garner (co-starring as a sympathetic but rule-bound doctor).
But — sure enough — McConaughey makes the movie worth seeing.
This rangy, drawling actor inhabits the role even without the striking weight loss. He can be a scoundrel and a charmer at the same time, and make it seamless. So let’s put aside the foolish Daniel Day-Lewis comparisons, because at this point being Matthew McConaughey is enough.
“Dallas Buyers Club” (3 stars)
Matthew McConaughey is excellent as a real-life Dallas rodeo rider who set up a system of importing AIDS drugs after he was diagnosed in 1985. The movie’s a little messy, but McConaughey inhabits the role, skillfully balancing the scoundrel and the charmer in this roguish character.
Rated: R for nudity, language, subject matter.
Showing: Harvard Exit.