There are a few times in your filmgoing lifetime, a few rare experiences, where you catch a glimpse of a performance that completely blows you away. If it is truly incredible, it forces you to take a step back and reexamine your own life and what has made you who you are. The performance could haunt you for a matter of days, weeks, even months. The last time I, personally, felt this way about a performance was when I watched both Jared Leto and Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club. Apparently, the Academy felt similarly, as the two swept up both Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor in the 86th annual Academy Awards. McConaughey lost nearly forty pounds for the role; he is almost unrecognizable – a far cry from the playboy who formerly starred in chick flick after chick flick. He plays Ron Woodruff, a sickly-thin cowboy, gambler, and hell-raiser, who lives his life day to day, night to night. From the beginning, you see his addictive personality in full force – hard drugs, alcohol, sex, strippers, and promiscuity rule his life. He works in manual labor as an electrician, but spends most of his day planning out his next line of debauchery. One of the first lines he speaks in the movie is a homophobic slur about an actor, Rock Hudson, who is in the paper after he has been diagnosed with AIDS. At first, it is quite hard to actually like his character.

However, Ron Woodruff’s world comes crashing to a halt when he discovers he is HIV positive and has an estimated thirty days to live. At first, he refuses to accept this fact, exclaiming that it is a disease that “only faggots have”, throws his diagnosis papers into the air, and proclaims: “Let me give y’all a little news flash. There ain’t nothin’ out there can kill f*****’ Ron Woodroof in 30 days”. He attempts to continue on with his life the way it has been, but soon he realizes that he is sicker than he imagined. He contemplates suicide, but eventually begins to procure a drug that is being tested by the FDA as a cure for AIDS; AZT. At this crucial time in the AIDS uprisal, doctors were not aware that AZT actually harmed patients and killed white blood cells. Ron Woodruff learns this fact from an American doctor in Mexico, who uses vitamins and alternative treatment plans to aid patients suffering with the disease. Since it is not approved in the United States, Woodruff smuggles the unapproved pharmaceutical drugs into Texas after he finds them to be effective at improving his symptoms.  He meets Rayon (portrayed by Jared Leto), an HIV positive transvestite who, at first, Woodruff, a prominent homophobe, hesitates to make contact with. The two form an unlikely bond, which blossoms into a friendship.

Jared Leto shines as Rayon – his performance moved me to tears.  Woodruff travels the world to find more promising drugs – Japan and Mexico, amongst other places. He establishes a business called the Dallas Buyers Club, which he runs out of a local hotel with Rayon, whose members, mostly homosexuals with HIV or full-blown AIDS, pay Woodrooff and Rayon membership fees for access to the pharmaceuticals that could add length to their lives. As Woodruff becomes more at peace with himself and his disease, he becomes more accepting of those around him. He learns that there is more to a person than something as trivial as sexuality, proven as he defends Rayon to a one of his former friends who spits insults at her in a grocery store and calls her a “freak”. By the end of the movie, you fall in love with Ron Woodruff – he is no longer the selfish, homophobic playboy, only focused on his next high. He becomes not only a hero to those suffering from HIV and AIDS, but a voice. He gives them hope. To me, this role is the role of a lifetime for both Leto and McConaughey. The movie is a must-see; it provides history and insight into the AIDS phenomenon, and it examines the lives of two unlikely friends who connect over an impossible fate.

By all means, do not miss this movie – it will open up your world. And to me, that is the heart of what a great film should do.