DALLAS BUYERS CLUB "Today's special on mustache rides: free!"

IN ADDITION to being an electrician and a part-time rodeo bull rider, Ron Woodroof was also a career partier—a thorough user of drugs and a prolific fucker of women. When he contracted AIDS in 1986, the disease was still, in the public's eye, very much limited to the realm of gay men. Woodroof overcame not only his deeply ingrained homophobia but, for many years, the disease itself: He smuggled in non-approved medications from Mexico, Japan, and elsewhere, selling them to HIV-positive patients while the FDA remained in Big Pharma's thrall.

It's an interesting story, but the real meat of Dallas Buyers Club is Matthew McConaughey's performance. As Woodroof, McConaughey dropped 50 pounds, filtering his Texas good-ol'-boy schtick through Woodroof's wiry bigotry and rage. In the early stages of Dallas Buyers Club, McConaughey emanates a palpable sense of menace—this is not a heroic man by any means. Of course, Woodroof undergoes the familiar Hollywood biopic transformation, nobly suffering from his illness and learning not to be such a jerk to gay men in the process.

The movie sputters at the end, as it attempts to draw tears from the audience while remaining true to the facts. It doesn't do either of those things very well, but for the first hour and a half, McConaughey's exceptional performance is riveting enough. Well into a remarkable career renaissance thanks to Magic Mike and Mud, McConaughey's perhaps the best he's ever been here. He's nearly matched by, of all people, Jared Leto in the role of Woodroof's transgender business partner, Rayon. A couple clunky showboating scenes aside, Leto inhabits the role comfortably and believably. Still, this is McConaughey's show. As vital as Woodroof's story is, director Jean-Marc Vallée overreaches—attempting to tie in the AIDS crisis, gay rights, and the evil of Big Pharma into one touching Hallmark story. He should've been content with letting McConaughey shine.