The Lincoln Lawyer and The Paperboy really depended on him, Killer Joe and Mud electrified because of him, and his cameo in The Wolf of Wall Street was apparently the only scene not cut down for the sake of running time. The Matthew McConaissance has reached a peak, and with McConaughey playing the lead in the upcoming Christopher Nolan epic Interstellar; it’s likely he’ll keep climbing. Perhaps his most fully fledged, head-rattling and enigmatic performance so far is as Rust Cohle in new television series True Detective – a landmark achievement in a somewhat stale medium (despite what the idiot-box machine might be trying to tell you). Detective aside, the flag at the top of McK2 is in the shape of Ron Woodroof in the biographical Dallas Buyer’s Club.
Ron Woodroof, a rodeo bull rider by day, drug, drink and sex addict by night, is informed he is HIV+. After much resistance, declaring only “faggots” can catch it, it eventually starts to sink in that he has only thirty days to live – not that he’ll accept that. Woodroof negotiates around America’s medical system to help himself and other AIDs patients get the medication they need (and if he gets rich on the way, so be it). This stark film’s biggest achievement is the complete avoidance of sentimentality. The screening even erupted with laughter at Woodroof’s childlike cruelty and base examinations. Of course, friendships form between him and other AIDs patients, namely Jared Leto’s fictional Rayon, but it is schmaltz-free and all the better for it. It is truthful, invigorating, and without burden manages to carry strong messages.
Leto is not an actor that one would associate awards buzz, but neither is it unfair to say that this performance has come out of nowhere, and apart from Michael Fassbender in 12 Years a Slave, he’s earned the buzz. There’s a lot to be said for his portrayal of a transgender woman, perhaps good and bad about its authenticity, and in fact the film perhaps generally plays fast and loose with the facts, but Leto is utterly convincing; his pristine pop-rock star alter ego entirely forgotten. He serves as the perfect counterpoint to Woodroof, and their rowdy exchanges thankfully never enter the realms of scenery chewing; that’s something that is a lot trickier to choreograph than it might at first seem. To have such strong performances baring everything on their sleeves with very little subtext, to keep the camera quiet and unfussy, with no action or sexy sex scenes, and yet have packed cinemas of all shapes, sizes, colours, planets, root for the hero and enjoy the ride is quite a feat.
One might criticise it for it’s lack of narrative build up to an emotional payoff, but that would remove any trace of identity and honest portrayal of real events. Things didn’t end well in 1980s for AIDs patients, despite the plain facts presented to government, should the film pretend it did? That’s not to say the film is entirely depressing and gritty, far from it. Dallas Buyer’s Club is a careful character study based in both fact and fiction, about a man gaining benevolence, empathy, and even a shred of love, and it’s why I love American independent filmmaking.