Dallas Buyers Club
Credit: Anne Marie Fox

By now, you know that Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto sacrificed their bodies and dropped more than 30 pounds each to play their HIV-positive characters in Dallas Buyers Club. It’s understandable that those details have been obsessed over by the media in stories and reviews, but there’s more than a spartan diet behind both men’s convincing transformations into the homophobic redneck (McConaughey) who becomes a drug-dealing savior to the demoralized gay community in the mid-1980s and the delicate transsexual (Leto) who becomes his unlikely business partner.

Ron Woodroof was a real guy, a bull-riding, drug-snorting, womanizing bastard whose ignorance and reckless sexual behavior left him HIV-positive at the height of the AIDS crisis. Given 30 days to live by the hospital, he sought a cure in the drugs that could only be found south of the border. When some of those meds actually proved effective, he saw an opportunity to make some cash and started smuggling them north, where he set up a buyers club. (A buyers club is a legal loophole of sorts that gives meds to its members — for $400 month — rather than straight-up selling drugs.) Not exactly plugged into the gay community, Woodroof recruits a transsexual named Rayon to help find consumers, and their odd-couple relationship is the heart of the film.

Both actors are in the Oscar hunt, and EW’s Chris Nashawaty wrote that what “McConaughey accomplishes here should be considered the culmination of an unlikely career overhaul that began with 2011’s The Lincoln Lawyer and then continued with unselfconscious turns in Bernie, Magic Mike, and Mud. If there was any doubt that McConaughey is more than just a tawny-chested rom-com stud, there should be no question anymore.”

Leto, too, uses the role to remake his career, one that had withered and been sidetracked by the demands of a successful music career. EW’s Oscar pundit Anthony Breznican thinks the Thirty Seconds to Mars singer is the current frontrunner for Best Supporting Actor.

Dallas Buyers Club opened Nov. 1 and expands to more cities today. An even wider expansion is planned for next week. Before you head to the theaters, read what some of the nation’s leading critics think about the film.

Chris Nashawaty (Entertainment Weekly)

“Thanks to McConaughey’s and Leto’s fearless performances as two terminally ill men going to whatever lengths it takes, swallowing as many pills and injecting as many syringes as necessary to survive another day, Dallas Buyers Club achieves a sort of grace.”

Ann Hornaday (Washington Post) ▲

“Thanks to a wily coyote of a protagonist — and the actor who has made such characters such gratifying cinematic figures of late — Dallas Buyers Club turns the facts of a life into deeply grounded emotional truth. McConaughey hasn’t just become the devil we know. He’s become the one we love.”

Richard Corliss (TIME) ▲

“This is a bold, drastic and utterly persuasive inhabiting of a doomed fighter by a performer who has graduated from the shirtless rom-com Romeo of the last decade to indie-film actor du jour. … The salesman patter of his musical voice remains, but it is directed to darker, more toxic ends.”

Betsy Sharkey (Los Angeles Times)

“McConaughey’s weight loss [is] so extreme as to border on distraction. But it’s not the exterior that makes the man. McConaughey channels the spirit of a revolutionary and the soul of a redneck in what is one of his most affecting performances yet.”

Ty Burr (Boston Globe)

“By the end of this sincerely calculated, always watchable movie, everything has burned away but the fury, including whatever you may think or have thought about the actor you’re looking at. That’s how good the performance is.”

David Edelstein (New York) ▲

“It’s difficult to talk about the beauty of Leto’s performance, because he just, well, is. The transformation is so complete — ­physically and vocally — that it’s hard to believe he could ever be anything else. Rayon (née Raymond) is high on being Rayon, to the point where you sometimes forget that he’s dying, too.”

A.O. Scott (New York Times)

“Mr. Leto is always a subtle and intriguing actor, but Rayon essentially revives the ancient stereotype of the tragic, self-destructive queen, suffering operatically and depending, at last, on the kindness of strangers.”

Dana Stevens (Slate)

“Leto plays [Rayon] with delicacy and humor and nary a hint of “look, I’m a drag queen!” straight-actor self-regard. … It’s a performance that should catapult Leto out of the prison of being remembered forever as My So-Called Life’s teen heartthrob.”

Eric Kohn (IndieWire)

“Vallée … directs this scenario with a straightforward approach that may not realize the full dramatic weight of the situation but generally sidesteps potential issues that arise with a heterosexual perspective that downplays its homosexual characters.”

Richard Roeper (Chicago Sun-Times) ▲

“Thanks to the superb screenplay by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack and the brilliant, brave performances by the cast, Dallas Buyers Club gets just about everything right, save for a few over-the-top scenes that hammer home points that have already been made.”

Peter Debruge (Variety) ▲

“Not since I Love You Phillip Morris has a film put such a fresh twist on the accepted AIDS narrative, but instead of getting in the public’s faces the way that crazy Jim Carrey comedy did, Dallas Buyers Club works its way under their skin.”

Dallas Buyers Club

Overall Metacritic rating (1-100): 84

Rotten Tomatoes: 94 percent

Dallas Buyers Club
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