“Dallas Buyers Club” Casting Review

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

Dallas Buyers Club is a movie full of surprises—not because the story is packed with plot twists, but due to the exceptional acting performances by its leading cast. All of the lead actors here are people you’ve seen on film and television over the years—actors, whose performances we’ve seen countless times and have grown accustomed to. But just when you thought you knew what a certain actor was capable of, Dallas Buyers Club is here and is ready to prove you wrong.

Inspired by true events, the movie centers on a prototypical Texan cowboy, “Ron Woodroof“, who discovers that he has HIV. Unable to find solace or treatment in the United States, Ron seeks out “alternative” treatments for his condition—traveling to Mexico to obtain HIV medications yet to be approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) in the U.S. When Ron realizes that the unapproved medication is actually working, he has an epiphany: why not take these drugs back to the United States and offer them to his fellow HIV/AIDS afflicted peers? Although the idea of helping people get treatment is compelling for Ron, he is initially motivated by more selfish desires, i.e., the opportunity to make a hefty profit selling these drugs to those that desperately need it.

When it comes to playing an authentic Texan cowboy, who better to play it than Matthew McConaughey? A native Texan himself, McConaughey fits into this role like a glove (or in this case, a cowboy hat), and gives an Oscar-worthy performance as the ailing Ron. McConaughey is a prime example than an actor’s performance is only as good as the material he/she has to work with. Only a few years ago, the public perception of McConaughey was that he was your prototypical hunky actor relegated to comedies and “chick flicks”, e.g., The Wedding Planner, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Daysand Failure to Launch to name a few. Although there’s nothing wrong with doing those types of movies, after doing so many, McConaughey definitely got the reputation that those types of projects were the only things he was good at.

As previously mentioned, McConaughey’s acting performances were a reflection of the material that he was working with, and although he was great in films like The Wedding Planner, a project of that nature (i.e., light-hearted romantic comedies) will only allow so much room for someone to flex their acting muscles—you won’t really find a multi-layered, complex serial killer in those types of films. Thankfully, over the years, McConaughey has continued to challenge himself by taking on darker and more complex roles, and the result is we are now getting to see exactly what he is capable as an actor: his emotional range, his gravitas, and everything in between. His roles in recent films like MudThe Paperboy, and The Lincoln Lawyer are proof-positive of that.

Getting back to Dallas Buyers Club: although the character of Ron starts off as being very McConaughey-esque (a cowboy full of charm and swagger), once he learns that he has HIV, everything kicks into high gear. From here, McConaughey proves his acting chops by showing the roller coaster of emotions one could possibly go through when dealing with a terminal illness. McConaughey’s Ron refuses to accept the death sentence given to him by his doctors, and when he begins selling medication to make a profit, he also has to confront his own personal prejudice and beliefs regarding homosexuality. Needless to say, McConaughey slays this role and proves that he is more than just a hot body and a pretty face. In fact, while shooting this film, he drew a lot of attention and concern due to the fact that he lost a significant amount of weight in order to better fit the role of an HIV/AIDS infected person. Although an actor losing or gaining weight for a role is more than common in this business, the drastic physical change that McConaughey went through was clearly shocking enough to draw attention, which only further validates his dedication to this role and the project.

I could write on and on about McConaughey and this role, but it’s equally important to mention the other actors’ performances here. Besides the character of Ron, the other stand out role here is “Rayon”, Ron’s transgender business partner who also has AIDS. Musician/actor Jared Leto plays Rayon, and he has already been getting critical attention and buzz for his performance. Notable actors playing LGBT roles tend to garner immediate attention, (e.g., Brokeback Mountain, Milk, etc.), and this is especially true when the role is transgender, since it often entails an actor playing someone dressed like the opposite sex, a la Felicity Huffman’s award-winning performance as a transsexual in Transamerica. Leto has always been known for playing darker, edgy characters, and his turn as Rayon is his best work yet. What really seals the deal in Dallas Buyers Club though is not just McConaughey and Leto’s individual performances, but their dynamic chemistry with one another. Their relationship initially begins as one of convenience with the two only agreeing to work with each other for the monetary benefits. However, during the course of the film, Ron’s priorities shift from making money to helping people suffering from HIV/AIDS get affordable medication that the hospitals aren’t providing. This change in Ron, in turn, affects his relationship and attitude toward Rayon, and the end result is a genuinely heartwarming relationship between two incredibly flawed characters linked by a common illness.

Of course it’s important to note the film’s other female lead (next to Rayon), “Dr. Eve Saks”, played by Jennifer Garner. Garner is definitely one of Hollywood’s most in-demand leading ladies and can be seen in both big studio features, as well as smaller, independent films. Here, she plays Ron and Rayon’s sympathetic physician who also agrees with them that there has to be a better course of treatment for HIV/AIDS patients. Her performance here is subtle, honest, and believable as her character walks the line between her legal duties as a doctor, and her moral beliefs.

The remainder of the film’s supporting cast is filled to the brim with seasoned and talented professionals. Steve Zahn has a notable role as Ron’s police officer friend; Dallas Roberts plays Ron’s attorney, Kevin Rankin plays the redneck “T.J.”; Denis O’Hare plays Garner’s boss at the hospital; and Michael O’Neill plays the FDA agent dedicated to busting Ron’s entire operation.

On a large scale, Dallas Buyers Club is a commentary about health care and the 1980s HIV/AIDS epidemic, but at the same time, it’s an up close and personal story of those affected by the disease, expertly portrayed by McConaughey, Leto, Garner, and the rest of the cast.

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Kyle