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Originally published November 7, 2013 at 3:06 PM | Page modified November 8, 2013 at 9:35 AM

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‘Dallas Buyers Club’: a fearless portrayal of a man fighting AIDS

A 3.5-star review of “Dallas Buyers Club,” a drama set in the early years of AIDS, starring Matthew McConaughey in another stellar performance.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie Review 3.5 stars

‘Dallas Buyers Club,’ with Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner, Denis O’Hare, Steve Zahn, Michael O’Neill, Dallas Roberts, Griffin Dunne. Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, from a screenplay by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack. 117 minutes. Rated R for pervasive language, some strong sexual content, nudity and drug use. Harvard Exit, Lincoln Square.

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Matthew McConaughey, in “Dallas Buyers Club,” seems reduced to nothing but will and bone; playing a man dying of AIDS yet determined to live, he grows more vivid even as he’s fading away. Ron Woodroof, a Texas electrician/rodeo cowboy, lived a hard-partying life but was floored to be told, in 1985, that he was HIV-positive at age 35. His shock was soon transformed into action: Angered by the expense and limited availability of effective drugs, he soon began importing medications from other countries; first for himself, then to an array of patients who eagerly joined his not-quite-legal “buyers club.”

Woodroof died in 1992, but not before talking about his life to screenwriter Craig Borten; more than two decades later, his story finally appears on-screen. And maybe it was right that this project waited until McConaughey had reached this point in his career. Once the shirtless go-to charmer for forgettable romantic comedies, McConaughey’s coming off a wave of interesting roles in movies as varied as “Bernie,” “The Paperboy,” “Mud” and “Magic Mike.” Here, he’s wiry, wiggly and slick as cellophane in the early scenes; Ron’s a low-rent, homophobic good-old-boy playboy delighted with his life, and he isn’t about to take a death sentence lying down. His belt, ever-tightening, flaps in the breeze; you fear this ever-shrinking man might blow away, too.

Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, “Dallas Buyers Club” explores an era that’s been too-little seen on film: the early AIDS years, when people were dying and helplessness and fear seemed to float in the air. Though effective, the movie does become a little, well, movie-ish, as we watch illness transform Ron into a better man — even befriending a wryly beautiful transgender woman named Rayon (Jared Leto, in a heartbreaking performance) while fighting for the rights of everyone to have access to AIDS medication. (It’s a tribute to the actors that we believe this friendship.) You walk away not thinking about the movie or the story, but about McConaughey’s Ron: not always likable (the actor resists every urge to give angry Ron a twinkle in the eye), but played with such fearless, reckless honesty that he becomes the year’s most unlikely movie hero.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or

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