Film Review: Dallas Buyers Club

HAVING seen the film early at an advanced screening a few days before its official UK release I feel it is my duty as a film lover to urge you too see this film as soon as possible.

Dallas Buyers Club, set in 1985, is based on the true life events of Ron Woodroof, a loud-mouthed homophobic “rodeo” from (you guessed it) Dallas who finds out that his years of promiscuity have caught up with him and he has been terminally diagnosed with HIV.

The film, directed by by Jean Marc Vallee, follows Woodroof’s attempt to import “unapproved” pharmaceutical drugs when he finds them to be more potent than those given to him by the hospitals at treating his condition.

The first thing to say about the film is the most obvious, the thing everybody has been lauding praise upon and that is the Academy nominated performance from Matthew McConaughey.

The hype and praise is totally justified. If you haven’t seen the trailers or posters then you will have no doubt seen pictures in the papers of McConaughey’s incredible weight loss. It would be too easy to just heap praise on him just for this alone but his portrayal is so much more than that.

Minor details like the bullish arrogant tone that Woodroof begins with and how it becomes softer and more despondent the weaker the character becomes. The same can be said of the stance that Woodroof begins with starting as cocky, arrogant and domineering into being tame and brittle as the character’s condition worsens throughout the film.

McConaughey’s performance is so good that at times I forgot that I was watching an actor act and slipped into a stage of surreal authenticity where I was totally engrossed in the emotion of this man. I felt Woodroof’s anger, frustration and fear, a feat that is not easily achieved.

This performance is all the more incredible when you consider it comes from an actor who up until recently starred in a string of flop Rom-Coms and was labelled Matthew “Mahogany” by some for the wooden nature of his performances.

A special mention also has to be given to Jared Leto who has also received an Oscar nod for best supporting actor. He plays Rayon, a transsexual fellow HIV sufferer who Woodroof first meets in a hospital and is initially hostile towards until an eventual bond forms and the two become close business partners.

Leto also lost a lot of weight for his role but doesn’t really on this solely either, demonstrating genuine emotive qualities and dimensions to a character that could quite easily have slipped into a stereotypical caricature but is held together very well.

The film isn’t just held together by it’s performances however. The plot is strong and has various ambitious elements which mostly pay off.

Other films that have explored the historically taboo issue of Aids have often focused on the abuse and prejudice that those with the disease face, particularly films like Philadelphia with Tom Hanks.

Dallas Buyers Club however didn’t dwell too heavily on this which I was very pleased about.

A contemporary audience is a lot more educated on the subject and the taboo is much more removed. This allowed the film a lot more creative freedom to explore wider issues like the bureaucratic restraints which hounded Ron Woodroof’s attempts to essentially ease the suffering of himself and others.

The continuing stand off between the Food & Drug Administration and Woodroof was very well executed showcasing the poisonous affect of money and the lengths Government institutions will sink into to stop somebody hustling their system.

The film also addresses various moral issues such as whether you have the right to control what goes into your own body and whether you have the right to take any drug you like in a terminally ill situation. Crucially “Club” never feels like it celebrates or condemns Woodroof’s actions but merely objectively presents them and leaves the question of whether he was after all just a common drug dealer open ended.

Underlining the whole film around all the bureaucratic and moral issues is the journey that Ron Woodroof himself makes. He starts as a boisterous and rowdy character abusing all those who don’t fit his way of life and transforms into an emotionally and culturally tolerant person, a performance perfectly anchored by McConaughey.

The film is also darkly funny in many areas particularly arising from the chemistry between McConaughey and Leto as these two characters with completely different attitudes and aspects on life come together in a closed environment. These moments are few and far between and arise just enough for comic relief from a film dealing with a fairly dark subject. Crucially this humour never feels forced or facetious.

Jennifer Garner herself was perfectly acceptable in her role as a doctor caught in a moral dilemma. On one hand she can see the drug that the hospital administrates to it’s HIV patients, AZT, isn’t effective enough while retaining her reservation that Ron Woodroof is just a common drug dealer.

That said I still feel like a better actress could have gotten more out of this role than Garner herself did.

The only criticism I have would be the almost half-hearted attempt at a love sub plot between McConaughey and Garner which never built up enough momentum to be interesting. Fortunately the film doesn’t divert too much from it’s plot to accommodate for this sub plot.

McConaughey and Leto have already won Golden Globes for their roles while both are hot favourites for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor at next months Academy Awards and with performances like those given in Dallas Buyers Club one could hardly be surprised if they won.


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