DALLAS BUYERS CLUB
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner
Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
In Dallas Buyers Club, Matthew McConaughey plays a homophobic rodeo redneck who, after being diagnosed with Aids in 1985, becomes an inadvertent saviour of sorts for the LGBT community at the height of America's HIV/Aids crisis.
If that sounds improbable, wait until you realise that the perennially shirtless star of The Wedding Planner and Fool's Gold is now the odds-on favourite to walk away with a best actor Oscar next month.
While his recent parts in indie features such as Bernie, Killer Joe, Magic Mike and Mud are increasingly looking like the actor's first steps to become a future screen icon, McConaughey's complete immersion into the desperate yet defiant antihero - he reportedly shed some 17kg to attain the skeletal figure - has to be seen to be believed.
The drama is based on the last years of real-life Texas electrician Ron Woodroof, who became HIV-positive through unprotected sex with a female drug user. It follows Woodroof as he comes to terms with his predicament and goes in search of the best medication for himself and, being the debt-ridden cowboy that he is, those who can pay.
Under the direction of French-Canadian filmmaker Jean-Marc Vallée ( C.R.A.Z.Y., The Young Victoria), Dallas Buyers Club doesn't dwell as much on Woodroof's misery as it plunges him into a rewarding journey of self-discovery. This is hardly your average terminal illness drama: the protagonist refuses to die - unless he can take down the establishment with him, too.
After bribing a hospital janitor for new drug azidothymidine (better known as AZT), which is still in trials, Woodroof soon finds an effective, experimental drug cocktail prescribed by a disbarred American doctor in Mexico. Soon, he's smuggling these unapproved drugs across the border like a true entrepreneur.
Charting the dying man's trailblazing endeavours to break laws and save lives, Dallas Buyers Club occasionally feels too simplistic to be a historical account. This is partly exemplified by Jennifer Garner's sympathetic medico, Dr Eve Saks, who readily and unreservedly buys into Woodroof's theory that high doses of AZT are killing patients amid wilful ignorance of pharmaceutical companies and the authorities.
Far more fascinating is Jared Leto's turn as the HIV-positive and drug-addicted transvestite Rayon, who becomes Woodroof's greatest emotional support and business partner in crime. Perhaps better known recently as the frontman of rock band 30 Seconds to Mars, the actor-musician's first film outing in years injects a delicate blend of humanity and flamboyance into the proceedings.
As a topical drama, Dallas Buyers Club is unlikely to be canonised in the same way that 12 Years a Slave has been on the subject of slavery. What will live on, though, is the complex and committed roles played by both McConaughey and Leto. Surely, two of the year's best performances.
Dallas Buyers Club opens on February 20