In 1985 Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) was an electrician working in Dallas, Texas, and having what he thought was the time of his life, sleeping around, gambling, snorting tons of cocaine, drinking gallons of alcohol, and chainsmoking into the bargain. But he had been losing weight quite alarmingly, and one day after indulging in quite a few of the aforementioned he collapsed at home, waking up hours later but not twigging that he was really very ill. Later, he collapsed even more seriously and was rushed to hospital, where he was informed the doctors had performed blood tests on him and found him to be afflicted with the AIDS virus, something he thought only homosexuals such as the recently outed Rock Hudson contracted...
Only he didn't call them homosexuals. This was, according to the opening credit, based on a true story, and seeing as how it involved leading man McConaughey shedding many pounds to change his physical appearance, he was a shoo-in at a tough Oscars race for the Best Actor gong, as it had been observed the Academy liked performances which featured the thespian going the extra mile for their art. All credit to him, although how accurate his portrayal to the real Ron Woodroof was contended by many who had actually known the man, the character as delivered in the script by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack was the tour de force McConaughey was by this point well known for.
That award was a validation of a star who had reinvented himself as a powerful dramatic actor for a new phase in his career, which funnily enough was echoed in the Ron persona he was playing, an outwardly shallow man whose shake up in outlook was enough to redeem him. This Ron doesn't believe anyone except the gay community and intravenous drug abusers have anything to worry from AIDS, but when he contracts it he finds himself ostracised and at a loss for what to do next with what the doctors tell him is a month of life left. In a way Borten and Wallack had less taken the real Woodroof as a model, who was bisexual, and more the bigot played by Vic Morrow in the first segment of Twilight Zone: The Movie, who has a taste of his own medicine.
On the subject of medicine, Dallas Buyers Club appealed to a different section of the community than those with experience of gay lifestyles, or sympathetic to them, as the Food and Drugs Administration came in for mighty criticism, previously the domain of conspiracy theorists but in this case offering evidence the organisation was deliberately holding back valuable research and even medication which could easily have made a difference in the treatment of AIDS patients, instead pushing medication that will make pharmaceutical companies big profits rather than saving the victims. Again, not everyone went along with the movie's depiction of the government body who are boo hiss bad guys to a man, but that highlighted the best way to appreciate this, not as sticking to the letter of truth, but as an actor's showcase.
It wasn't only McConaughey providing impressive acting, as his co-stars Jennifer Garner (as a composite of various doctors who could understand what Ron was attempting) and Jared Leto (as the transsexual Rayon, also whip-thin) were instrumental to how effective as drama this was. Leto's character didn't exist in real life, yet as another Oscar winner he amped up the sympathy, with Ron treating him as a necessary figure in running his club where he sells subscriptions to offer illegal drugs to AIDS patients which will do them far more good than the official ones given in hospitals. That doesn't mean Ron has to like him, his prejudice still present while confronted with its essential idiocy, though it's no surprise to see him thaw by the close of the story. If you never thought Jared Leto could move you in an acting performance (the jury's still out on his music), then prepare to be taken aback by his commitment, so perhaps it was best to leave the disgruntlement many had with the movie to one side (the anachronisms were thanks to the lack of budget) until you had finished watching its drama.