Dallas Buyers Club marks the culmination in the renaissance of Matthew McConaughey. For too long McConaughey, who had showed award worthy accolades in films such as Lone Star and A Time To Kill, dwelled in the doldrums of by-the-numbers rom-coms, usually alongside fellow potential great Kate Hudson. But since 2011’s Lincoln Lawyer, followed by the likes of Killer Joe, Magic Mike and Mud, McConaughey has repeatedly demonstrated the acting chops that once had him being talked about as ‘the next big thing’. That Dallas Buyers Club has resulted in McConaughey’s first Oscar Nomination demonstrates that, finally, he is fulfilling his now clear and stunning potential.
Dallas Buyers Club tells the story of Ron Woodroof, a hustler, boozing cowboy who lives fast and thinks it would take an act of God to strike him down. That is until he is diagnosed with HIV and given 30 days to live. Refusing to give up without a fight he buys an FDA awaiting drug from a hospital worker only for that source to rapidly dry up. Desperate, he turns to doctor Eve (Jennifer Garner) who informs him that there are no drugs in the US that can help him, so he heads to Mexico. There he is treated and beats the 30 day death sentence whilst also realising there’s a financial killing to be made back home with these non-FDA approved drugs. Recruiting fellow HIV suffer, and local drag queen, Rayon (Jared Leto) to help him find clients, Woodroof sets up the Dallas Buyers Club. For a $400 a month membership members will get all the medicine they need in order to prolong their lives. But the authorities are anxious to put an end to Woodroof’s scheme.
Woodroof at the beginning of the film is a con man, a self-centered, homophobe who is only really looking out for number one. But when he’s told he’s going to die so kicks in his cowboy instincts, to climb on the bull that is life and hold onto it for dear life, refusing to be bucked just because the world sees him as nothing more than a clown. The same could be said of McConaughey’s career. At first he isn’t that likable, hostile and angry to many around him but as his situation worsens so Woodroof becomes a crusader for those afflicted with a disease that the US government saw more as a money spinning exercise than a way of helping suffers.
As you would expect Dallas Buyers is a damning indictment of the US healthcare system. The doctors, for the most part, are bought and paid out of the pocket of the pharmaceutical companies; happy to push poison in the wrong doses if there is even a 1% chance the drug may work.
But while there is a strong political message here the film’s greatest strength comes from the relationship between characters. At first Woodroof and Rayon are at each others throats. But, despite a constant bickering, they soon become kindred spirits, Rayon opening Woodroof’s eyes to the person behind the disease as well as the sexuality he so despises.
Central in bringing endless warmth and pathos to the film are the performances. Director Jean-Marc Vallée’s direction wisely focuses more and more on the actors doing what they do so well. Garner, as the only likable medical practitioner in the film, is typically cute as a button and sharp as a tack, one of few people able to impress Woodroof with her sympathetic yet pragmatic approach. Jared Leto is stunning as Rayon. Camp without being flamboyant, sassy without being histrionic he paints Rayon as the kind of person who is able to get out of most situations with a killer smile and a casual flick of his hips. He also looks damn good in a plunging dress and is more than able to give Woodroof a run for his cocky money. But the film belongs to McConaughey, his dramatic weight loss and transformation from his usual reptilian presence to something altogether more damaged is a revelation. He’s captivating while not always being likable, sympathetic despite his often-arrogant ways and by the time he has turned into the defender of the preyed upon he encapsulates a true underdog. Gritted and determined it’s the sort of performance that fully warrants the amount of award praise lavished upon him.
A film that combines a powerful message with brilliant characters, Dallas Buyers Club is a true story told with enough bravery and gusto to flaw you with heartbreaking delight. Sign up for a membership right now.