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MOVIE REVIEW: 'Dallas Buyers Club'

Dallas Buyers Club

(R)

3 and 1/2 out of 4 stars

It took a couple of decades and lots of embarrassing performances on screen and off, but it would appear that with the recent “Mud” and “Dallas Buyers Club” Matthew McConaughey has finally delivered on all that promise displayed so long ago in “Lone Star” and “A Time to Kill.” Having too long skirted by on dimples, blindingly white teeth and a lazy Texas drawl, McConaughey has finally gotten down to brass tacks and started practicing his craft.

In “DBC,” McConaughey plays Ron Woodroof, a heterosexual Texas electrician who contracted AIDS in the ’80s. The word “heterosexual” was included here because Woodroof (in the movie but not so much in real life) would have rather died than been incorrectly identified as a gay man. Early in the film after first being diagnosed with AIDS, Woodroof is in staunch disbelief because he thinks only homosexuals get AIDS. Although Woodroof progressively softens his view of alternative lifestyles throughout the course of the film, he’s never fully removed from his imbedded, myopic, shortsighted opinions which — from a dramatic perspective — make him a supremely fascinating character.

Initially and out of pure desire for self-preservation, Woodroof — who became a quick study on the benefits, downsides and side-effects of then-newfound AIDS medications — probably did more for the advancement of AIDS cures than any other non-medical professional gay or straight. Woodroof might not have started out as a visionary trailblazer but that’s what he ended up becoming and anyone who has AIDS or knows someone who does (if they haven’t already) needs to recognize his bold, yet sometimes left-handed achievements.

The about-face transformation in Woodroof’s attitude is the central plot of the film and mirrors the perspective of the majority of the heterosexual U.S. community in general. This is brought to the fore in the movie by Rayon (Jared Leto), a pre-op transsexual and transvestite Woodroof meets in hospital whose unflinching will and bull-headed determination matches that of Woodroof. Mutually repelled by each other, Rayon and Woodroof eventually and begrudgingly come to the conclusion that they seek the same end result and become founders of the Dallas Buyers Club.

Because of a fuzzy legal substance loophole, Woodroof was able to procure unapproved (in the U.S.) meds that he sold (at minimal profit) to fellow AIDS patient via annual “membership fee.” While Woodroof went back and forth to Mexico (a reported 300-plus times), to get the drugs, Rayon networked the local LGTB community for subscribers and it wasn’t long before they started a significant movement that was soon copied in other major cities. Oddly, most law and medical professionals knew what Woodroof was doing and lent him a lot of leeway during his pursuits but would never bend the letter of the law or the Hippocratic Oath beyond the breaking point.

At this point, you’re probably thinking you’ve been given too many plot details, but rest assured you haven’t. Director Jean-Marc Vallee along with screenwriters Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack dole out the subplots in perfectly proportioned doses. In her perhaps-ever best performance, Jennifer Garner shows up as Eve Saks, a doctor who initially diagnoses Woodroof and becomes a semi-unwitting partner in his venture. If the Saks character is portrayed accurately here, she is certainly deserving of praise for valuing the quality of human life over red-tape BS.

“DBC” does a magnificent job of putting the spotlight on a medical issue that sparked the nation’s attention for a (sadly) short time and has never gone away. AIDS remains a critical threat to worldwide health and “DBC” might just kick-start the much-needed attention the disease requires.

Ignoring it won’t make it go away. (Focus Features)