Dallas Buyers Club Matthew McConaughey

Many glowing words—and awards—will be bestowed upon the pair of phenomenally transformative performers that headline Dallas Buyers Club—and deservedly so. Matthew McConaughey, completely shed of his Magic Mike brawn, has never been better, playing real-life bull-rider Ron Woodroof, a womanizing, hard-partying homophobe who, much to his disbelief, is diagnosed with AIDS in 1986. And Jared Leto as Rayon, Ron’s equally rail-thin transsexual hospital roommate turned business partner and eventual friend, steals the show from McConaughey. Even Jennifer Garner is quietly efficient as the rare doctor who is sympathetic to Ron’s efforts to secure and sell the FDA-unapproved drugs that would ultimately keep him alive for seven years instead of the originally predicted 30 days.

But it should be noted that the acting is complemented by equally superb direction (by Jean-Marc Vallée) and writing (by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack), and their decision to steer clear of heavy-handed sentimentality is refreshingly un-Hollywood. Ron’s slow metamorphosis from bigot to activist never seems anything less than genuine—even when his actions verge on the heroic, he remains a seriously flawed human being.

Perhaps the cinematic equivalent of tough love, Dallas Buyers Club may be more feel-bad than it would have been in the hands of the more cliché-inclined. It’s even possible you may find yourself craving a little more emotionality, for this is a story that merits tears—but in the end because they come unforced, it makes for an altogether rawer, more sophisticated and satisfying experience.