Starring: Mathew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto
Genre: Drama/ Biography
Texas, 1985 and Ron Woodroof (McConaughey) is an electrician and rodeo bull rider who lives a life of hard drinking, drugs and sex. After an accident at work, he is taken to hospital and there discovers the news that he is HIV positive and only has 30 days to live. Due to at this point in time HIV and AIDS being regarded as a disease, which as Ron puts it “only faggots have”, he ignores the diagnosis convincing himself there has been a huge mistake. When the realisation sets in, Ron embarks on a mission to discover the medication he needs. Upon learning that all the most effective drugs are only available over the border in Mexico as they have not been approved in the States, he decides to do something about it. With the help of Rayon, a transgender HIV sufferer (Leto), Woodroof sets up ‘The Dallas Buyers Club’ which allows fellow sufferers to get the drugs they need, but it is not too long before the authorities are on his case and Ron faces yet another huge battle.
I know it has been said by everyone of late, but it does deserve to be repeated that in the last couple of years Mathew McConaughey has decided to become an actor and make some good films. For me, in a film that relies on an exceptional central performance, Dallas Buyers Club is his best performance yet. Though the weight both McConaughey and Jared Leto lost for their roles adds distinction, it doesn’t matter to me as this lot are all paid a lot of money and have the help of the best dieticians. Losing a huge amount of weight for a role is committed, but does not solely make someone a great actor all of a sudden.
He was a charismatic presence in Mud and Wolf of Wall Street, but in Dallas Buyers Club McConaughey brings emotional depth that I can safely say I have never seen him produce. The character arc of Ron Woodroof is certainly nothing new and quite predictable, but thanks to McConaghey’s performance the narrative is given the emotional engagement it needs.
Woodroof is quite an unlikeable character at first and when he is diagnosed it would be forgivable not to care. However McConaughey shows all the emotions that such a bombshell would produce including the inevitable denial and terror with genuine commitment that makes us want to root for this protagonist. With his homophobia and the views on AIDS at that time, Woodroof’s world has collapsed and those who he regarded as friends want nothing to do with a man who has a disease “only faggots have”.
As Woodroof embarks on a quest to cure himself, and then setting up ‘The Dallas Buyers Club’, he tries to maintain his masculine persona by saying it is just business, but there is a reluctant heroism about what Woodroof does. He would be too proud to admit it, but as clichéd as it is, it is what Woodroof does when faced with his darkest hour that makes him a great protagonist, with McCounaghey’s performance making sure the clichés are given genuine integrity. He goes clean and continues to lose weight and strength, but does become very much a true reluctant hero.
Forming the emotional backbone of the narrative are Woodroof’s relationships with business partner Rayon and compassionate doctor Eve (Garner). As the softly spoken transgender HIV sufferer Rayon, Leto gives his best performance in a role that would be extremely easy to get wrong and he thoroughly deserves his Oscar nomination. Garner also brings heart and compassion to her role. Once again, how Woodroof’s relationship develops with these two characters is quite predictable and a little textbook, but the exceptional performances mean the characters rise above all the clichés, making for a moving and engaging experience. There is in my view nothing wrong with clichés if they are part of a film made with integrity and commitment, and without a doubt Dallas Buyers Club has that in abundance from its actors and generally its writer’s intentions.
Of course only writers Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack know just how much Dallas Buyers Club is intended to be a social commentary, but the more political attacks on the medical establishment add a little to Woodroof’s character and journey, but do not really go anywhere else and sometimes feel a little out of place, detracting from the protagonist’s personal journey.
Though at times generic in terms of narrative structure and attempts at political commentary at times misfires, thanks mainly to some extremely committed performances at its heart Dallas Buyers Club is an engaging and moving drama.