Director: Jean-Marc Vallee
Starring Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto, Denis O’Hare, Steve Zahn, Michael O’Neill
Written by: Craig Borton and Melisa Wallack
Running Time: 117 mins
Release date: 7th February 2014
Whoever is in charge of Matthew McConaughey’s movie career at the moment, we salute you. You have taken an actor who looked like he was trapped in romantic comedy hell, with his fake tan and white, white teeth , and guided him to making interesting, challenging projects where his performances have made everyone sit up and take note. Everything from Mud to Killer Joe has led to this place, Dallas Buyers Club, where he has been nominated for an Oscar and, in my opinion, should walk away with it for an extraordinary performance.
Ron Woodroof is your typical cowboy from Texas, a man’s man with an eye for the ladies, a rodeo rider and hustler, who lives on booze and cheap drugs and who has strong opinions on the homosexual community, especially after Rock Hudson died of AIDS. After an accident at work, Ron is taken to hospital where he discovers he, too, has AIDS and has only 30 days to live. Refusing to accept the news, it’s not until his illness takes hold that he realises his danger. A miracle drug called AZT is being tested and Ron, refused them by his doctor, Eve, soon gets them from a corrupt hospital worker. When the supply runs out, he’s advised to go to Mexico.
Almost on death’s door, Ron heads South where a doctor working in a run-down hospital, gives Ron organic vitamins. The 30 days are over and Ron is still alive. Informed that AZT is toxic and the drugs Ron has been taking have been refused approval from the Food and Drugs Administration, Ron comes up with an idea: to smuggle the drugs back the States and instead of selling them, he sets up a club with a $400 a month membership and a supply of the drugs. With the help from a fellow AIDS victim and transvestite, Rayon, Ron is in a constant battle with the FDA, the doctors and his own friends who have ousted him and he goes on an incredible personal journey.
Dallas Buyers Club is based on a true story of this lowlife, good ole boy having to face his prejudice and his own personal demons in order to stay alive. It’s a long and sometimes painful trip for Ron but as the film progresses, we see a man who is obviously well-read, intelligent and whose own vision of the world is turned upside-down as he becomes more tolerant of those he originally feared.
Director Jean-Marc Vallee keeps the story telling straight forward, while interjecting moments of surrealism. The occasional high-pitch whistling whenever Ron suffers another ‘episode’; a scene in which we see the reflection of Ron in a TV, as if we are this character, the confusion of a man fighting for his life. These moments make the film just that little more interesting to watch and helps keep the obvious sympathetic moments down to a respectable level, instead of sledgehammering them home like some directors would.
While the story is a fascinating one and emotional too, it’s the performances that really do the job. Jennifer Garner proves her worth as Eve, the doctor who can see what Ron is doing, yet refuses to accept the magic of AZT. Denis O’Hare is deliciously oily as the doctor who can only see cash symbols in his eyes and it’s nice to see Griffin Dunne back on our screens as the Mexican doctor who virtually saves Ron’s life.
However, everyone else seems to pale into the background for the two leads. Jared Leto has been away from the screen for five years while working with his band 30 Seconds To Mars and he is magnificent as the venerable, yet savvy Rayon. He pulls the biggest emotional punches, particularly a scene where he begs his father for money. A short minute sequence is enough to make the tear duct wobble.
Then there’s McConaughey. Almost skin and bones for the HIV Positive cowboy, his is a career finest. He is not a likeable character in the beginning but as we all follow his unique journey of understanding and pain, we cannot help but like him and wish him on. It’s all thanks to Mr M’s amazing talent of taking life’s losers and turning them around. My money is on him to win the Oscar.
Sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes upbeat, always interesting and life-affirming, this is a tremendous film which stays in the memory long after the lights are down. As for Mr McConaughey, long may he produce work like this so that the rom coms can be but a blip as he is one of Hollywood’s most exciting actors around.