The evolution of Matthew McConaughey

2014-03-02 14:00

I wouldn’t bet against Matthew McConaughey taking home the best actor prize at The Oscars tomorrow morning.

I never thought I’d write that sentence, although in hindsight, he showed some promise back in 2001 in the chilling thriller Frailty.

But within 12 months of that, he made Reign of Fire (an action horror film about dragons) and The Wedding Planner (one of the worst romcoms of the noughties).

He’s also a little limited in what he can do. He’s a tall drink of water with a Texan twang, and that’s pretty much his knitting.

That hasn’t changed in Dallas Buyers Club, but the twist is that the good-looking golden boy from How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days and Fool’s Gold is replaced by an emaciated homophobic cad with a penchant for making dodgy bets at the rodeo.

McConaughey lost about 20kg to approximate his character Ron Woodroof’s physical condition by the time he was diagnosed with HIV and given 30 days to live in the mid-1980s.

Ignorance still reigned supreme about the disease and the bigoted Woodroof rages against the diagnosis, unable to grasp how he could have contracted a “gay disease”.

To his credit, he quickly realises that the disease is indiscriminate and he embarks on a journey of discovery to save his own life. He manages to prolong his life by seven years with careful living and a cocktail of drugs. However, his friends drop him like a hot potato.

The villain of this piece is the US Food and Drug Administration, which is slow to approve drugs, so growing numbers of people with HIV are contracting Aids and dying.

So Woodroof, ever the hustler, founds the Dallas Buyers Club and starts smuggling in life-prolonging drugs from Mexico and Japan.

Cynics might say that Woodroof got over his homophobia when he realised that a large number of the people who became his customers were gay, but the film tells it more poetically – that he finds his humanity the way most do, through spending time with people and discovering the shocking truth: They are just like you.

Jared Leto, who has spent the past few years honing his skills as a pop star rather than as an actor, returns with an award-winning performance.

His role as a damaged transgender woman is delicate and heartbreaking. Back in 2000, he played a drug addict in Requiem for a Dream and that part seems to have been a dress rehearsal for this much more nuanced one.

This performance could well win him the statuette for best supporting actor.

Dallas Buyers Club is an important story in the greater tale of HIV/Aids, but beyond that it is a deeply touching story of a friendship that would never have happened without the disease to bring these two souls together.

Don’t let the subject matter put you off. Director Jean-Marc Vallée teases out great performances and he has streamlined Woodroof’s story, though in essence it is the true story of how one man defied the machinery of the state to prolong his life and found his humanity in the process.

Perhaps it should be required viewing in Uganda, a country that has just legislated bigotry. America’s ever-odious religious nuts could also learn a thing or two about tolerance from this film.

In the meantime, McConaughey’s evolution from romcom hunk to serious actor has definitely enchanted Oscar.

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