Based on a true story, Matthew McConaughey plays a rodeo cowboy named Ron Woodroof in the late 80’s. This guy is a complete douchebag. He’s a racist, homophobic, womanizing, alcoholic junkie who treats everyone like garbage. Well, karma comes back to bite him in the ass. He gets AIDs. At first, he doesn’t take it seriously, accusing the doctors that they made a mistake. But when he comes to the realization that it’s true, he must deal with confronting death and the alienation of his friends (who figure him for a queer). Ron, refusing to go quietly, tracks down a drug that will prolong the disease. It’s illegal, but he smuggles it into the country from Mexico and begins to sell it to other people with AIDs, mostly homosexuals. During this time, Ron’s morals begin to change and even becomes friends and business partners with a transvestite named Rayon (Jared Leto).
I liked how hard-edged this movie was. No sugar-coating going on here. The movie opens with Ron banging 2 chicks at the same time at a rodeo. Right away it lets you know that this isn’t going to be a great date movie. But seriously, the movie is pretty good. And it all stems from Matthew McConaughey’s performance as Ron. Pulling a “Christian Bale”, McConaughey lost a considerable amount of weight for the film, resembling a skeleton. He looks very unhealthy, which was exactly the point. Recently, the actor has delivered a string of great performances, like MUD, BERNIE and especially KILLER JOE. His work here is no exception as he completely embodies the character. He starts off very unlikable, and for a while I was wondering if I really wanted this guy to live or not. I kind of hated him. But then he goes through a transformation. He actually becomes a good person, while still retaining his cocky personality. The main reason you end up liking Ron is entirely due to the McConaughey’s undeniable southern charm. It’s an incredibly bold performance, and one that will surely get him an Oscar nomination.
The supporting cast is also quite good. Jennifer Garner plays a nurse who ends up being sympathetic to Woodroof’s situation and cause. She delivers a subtle, but effective performance. The surprise performance for me came from Jared Leto, who plays the transvestite that kind of redeems Ron morally. It’s a tough charter complete with faults (he was a drug addict), but Leto allows the character to have some humor to him. It’s also a very brave performance. I love it when actors step out of what would be considered “comfortable characters” and try something completely different. “Bravo!” to the film’s cast.
So okay, the acting is terrific. How is the movie? I did like it, however it’s not a masterpiece. I do think it gets a little long and repetitive. I mean, how many times do we have to see Leto shoot up, or McConaughey walk out of another hospital as he cusses at all of the doctors? I think this could have been shortened a bit. But for the most part, it is a compelling and often times moving drama. The friendship that Ron forms with Rayon is a touching one. Also, I liked the mostly plutonic chemistry between Ron and Garner’s character. And I liked that there was some humor injected in, so it wouldn’t be a complete downer of a film. Just don’t expect sunshine and rainbows.
Jean-Marc Vallee also directed THE YOUNG VICTORIA, which I really enjoyed. This movie couldn’t be further away from that one, as far as content goes. The filmmaking is also quite different. While THE YOUNG VICTORIA was very slick and colorful, this one is rough and grungy looking. Vallee decided to use lots of handheld camerawork, and odd close-ups to bring you into the dark world of Ron Woodroof, and it works. The script is very raw, but like I said, could have been shortened a bit.
If you liked dark dramas like LEAVING LAS VEGAS, then you should find this one to be rewarding as well. It’s not a perfect movie, but this hard-edged film ends up being fully engaging thanks to another powerful performance from McConaughey. ★★★ (out of ★★★★)
– Rated R for pervasive language, some strong sexual content, nudity and drug use.
– Running time: 1hr 56min.